#altruism

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Continuing on with the seven part series regarding happiness, this week we’re digging deeper on habit four: Altruism.

Doing good things is an essential ingredient to happiness. How we spend our time and our resources is more important then the amount of money we make. Giving to others releases endorphins and activates the part of our brain that is associated with trust, pleasure, and social connection.

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So what is Altruism?

It is when we act to promote someone else’s welfare, even at a risk or cost to ourselves. It involves the unselfish concern for other people simply out of a desire to help, and not because of obligation, duty, loyalty, or religious reasons. Studies have found that a person’s first impulse is to cooperate rather than compete. This hardwired ability helped our ancestors to cooperate and survive under harsh conditions.

images-3In the Boston marathon bombings, some of the people in the crowd intuitively rushed towards recently exploded bombs. These were not people trained in being first responders, they rushed to a stranger’s aide because they knew help was needed – period. They put their own well being on hold so that they could help another who was in need. That was not only an extreme example of altruism, it was an act of selfless bravery!

“Altruism is one of the most fundamentally social impulses. Doing things for others without expecting anything in return is core to what makes us human.” – Joe Green

When we make the effort to give without expected reciprocity, we feel fulfilled and energized. Practicing altruism enhances our well-being emotionally, physically, romantically, and even financially; and it is crucial to having healthy communities.

Here’s what researchers found regarding altruism:

  • People reported a significant happiness boost after doing something kind for others. Some studies suggest that giving to others make people feel even happier than spending money on themselves. When we give, we stimulate areas of our brain associated with pleasure, trust, and social connection, thus giving ourselves a “helpers high.”
  • People who volunteer tend to feel better physically and mentally. Senior citizens who volunteer or regularly help friends and family have a significantly lower chance of dying prematurely.
  • Being altruistic helps us to find a mate. 10,000 people were surveyed within thirty-seven different cultures – all of them stated that kindness was the most important criterion for mate selection. Wow!
  • Altruism helps to fight addiction tendencies. Addicts who help others – even in minor ways, significantly improve their changes of staying sober and avoiding relapse.
  • Giving is contagious. When we give the benefactor isn’t always the individual or organization, it causes a ripple effect of generosity throughout the local community. When a person behaves generously, it inspires observes to behave generously later towards others.
  • Being altruistic makes us happier! Being altruistic supports our ability to be compassionate and to find good qualities in others. Giving to others helps us to feel grateful for our own good fortune and gives us a way to use our strengths and talents in a meaningful way. It also helps us to have an increased sense of connection and community with others, which is one of the strongest factors to increasing happiness.

“Altruism is innate, but it’s not instinctual. Everybody’s wired for it, but a switch has to be flipped.” David Rakoff

There are many ways to introduce or enhance a consistent habit of altruism that isn’t practiced only around the holiday season. Altruism can be simple things such as performing random acts of kindness or more extensive commitments of your time, health (blood/organ donation), or money.

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For me I am a huge fan of performing random acts of kindness such as putting a neighbors news paper on their front porch as I walk home after a run, refilling the coffee supplies for my co-workers (even though I don’t drink coffee at work), to putting shopping carts left in the parking by others in the shopping cart corral. I’m also a financial supporter of American Cancer Society and American Heart Association. But after writing this post I can see that I can and should do so much more such as volunteer some of my time. Note to self: Do that will you? 🙂

How will you start or enhance your altruism habit?

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#gratitude

images-6Practicing gratitude helps us to put our lives into perspective. When we can see the good as well as the bad it becomes much more difficult to complain or to stay stuck in our unhappiness.

Gratitude helps us to see and appreciate all that we have; it can also reduce our need for wanting more. Continue reading

#happinessNOW!

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Are you happy?

It’s the million-dollar question…yet, what really is happiness?

Is it something earned or something captured?

Is it something we strive for? Is it something tangible?

Is it obtainable or is it always elusive?

Is it personality based and hard wired into our DNA? Or can it be learned?

There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding happiness in the last several years and some people are making extraordinary money off of writing and speaking on the subject. One of those people is Christine Carter – she has generated a lot of buzz through her blog and her Greater Good Science Center website.

Christine is a Sociologist who has a passion for all things related to happiness. She discusses both the scientific research and the practical application of what leads to an individual’s happiness.

To help the naysayers keeping reading….. 🙂 I bringing up the scientific side because there is a subset of our culture that believes that happiness is self-indulgent. My point is that facts and data are proving that without happiness we cannot flourish and be successful, period, end of story.

Our happiness has a direct impact on our successes in life. This is because the emotions surrounding happiness help increase the blood flow in our brains and to release the natural chemicals that generate happiness – it is a ying & yang cyclical cycle.

imagesTo flourish we need to consistently have a ratio of three or more positive emotions to one negative. When we can do this, we reach a tipping point that helps us to become resilient through the hard times – when life gets messy and difficult. This three to one ratio isn’t only about we feel in the present, it’s also about how we perceive our past and our potential future.

Our most powerful positive emotions are about other people. When we have love and compassion we have the ability to ride the wave of the messy bits of life. We can deal with the negative situations and the emotions that come with them in an efficient and effective way.

What researchers have discovered is that one of the simplest ways to be happy is through a wide and deep breadth of human connections. It is human connection that provides meaning to our life. Without meaning why go through the motions?

Check point – I’m not talking about our American society’s way of getting “drive through hits of pleasure” such as buying a new outfit, shoes, car, etc…these things don’t provide lasting and deep meaning to our lives. They are a temporary high that at times actually back fire when the bill arrives in our inbox a month later.

images-1Recently I heard Christine being interviewed by Darren Hardy, and she made some good points about happiness. One of them resonated with me and got me thinking about how I could incorporate her point into my daily practice of Personal Mastery.

Christine says that happiness is a set of skills that we need to learn and practice so that we can become fluent in happiness. Man, I really liked this! Fluent in happiness!!! We can achieve happiness. Yes, we’ll need to work at it…no lasting change happens without focus, attention, determination and hard work.

Some of the research that Christine and others have done have shown that only 10% of our happiness is due to our external circumstances leaving 90% to our internal wiring, our intentional daily habits, and the choices we make. Whooo Hooooo!! Happiness is obtainable!

But how?

Here are seven habits that can help us to be happier (and the bonus is we’ll also be healthier!):

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  1. Mindfulness – a daily practice of nonjudgmental awareness and being present as we move through our day. Staying focused on the present allows us to make deeper connections with others and it allows us to be grateful for what is good in our lives.
  2. Gratitude – developing a regular gratitude practice is one of the easiest ways to override our brains negativity bias – the tendency to focus on negative things. As my Grandmother used to say: Count your blessings! Focusing on what you are grateful for focuses your attention and thoughts on the positives pieces of life.
  3. Physical Wellness – taking care of our physical wellness has the most effective instant happiness booster of all. Happiness is good for our health and good health increases our happiness. Physical well-being decreases anxiety, depression, pessimism and an overall lack of enjoyment of daily life.
  4. Altruism – doing good things is an essential ingredient to happiness. How we spend our time and our resources is more important then the amount of money we make. Giving to others also releases endorphins and activates the part of our brain that is associated with trust, pleasure, and social connection.
  5. Authenticity, Vulnerability, and Forgiveness – having the courage to be your true and authentic self opens the door to the powerful process of being vulnerable. Vulnerability deepens the connection you have with others and it makes it easier to practice forgiveness. We are all human and we all make mistakes.
  6. Social Connection (Empathy & Compassion) – social connection should be the top of our to do list – it is the foundation of happiness. Connection with others boosts our mental and physical health and even increases our immunity system and longevity. Science shows that through practicing happiness, we make those we come in contact with happier. Yup, happiness is contagious!
  7. Meaning, Strengths, & Success – many of us were taught to work hard and be successful. When we are successful we’ll be happy. But this formula is backwards! Happiness actually fuels success, not the other way around. When are brains are positively focused it is over 30% more productive then when it is focused negatively or neutrally. The type of work we do which engages us, puts us into flow, and is using our strengths/values while aligned with our life’s why – is again one of the signs of true happiness. Finding a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life not only allows us to experience and enjoy life more fully, it helps us to live longer!

The good news is that happiness is a set of skills that we can learn and practice so that we can become fluent in happiness. As with any new habit, it takes 20 – 60 days to make the changes associated with a habit part of our regular processes without thinking.

I’m up for the challenge…how about you?

“Happiness is dependent on self-discipline. We are the biggest obstacles to our own happiness. It is much easier to do battle with society and with others than to fight our own nature.” – Dennis Prager