There is a famous Chinese proverb: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”
In other words, it is better to give than receive. Why? Because it is through the act of giving that you experience pure, lasting joy.
Here are three specific reasons why helping others makes for a happy life.
Gives You a Purpose
The more you help others, the more self-fulfillment you reap. This is confirmed by a study led by Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren of the Hope College Department of Psychology. The group gathered 400 participants and asked them 1) how frequently they engaged in altruistic activities and 2) how they felt after those activities were completed. Those who were more altruistic experienced a better sense of purpose in their lives.
Here’s the moral of the story: If you sense a lack of meaning and purpose throughout each day, lend a hand to a family member, friend, or stranger. You will be happier once you are done.
Provides a Sense of Belonging
Let’s take it back to high school psychology 101. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid? Among those needs is the desire to feel love and belonging. It is in our human nature to need to feel love and be loved in return.
As you help others, you build a community. Saying hi to the register cashier at your local grocery store each time you check out can develop into a cordial friendship. Likewise, volunteering each week at a homeless shelter or local charity can introduce you to more people, some of which could turn into lifelong friends. The more love you experience in your life, the happier and more content you will feel.
Helps Decrease Effects of Everyday Stress
It turns out that helping others doesn’t just make you feel good, but it is good for you as well. Just ask some of the faculty of the Yale University School of Medicine who studied the correlation between stress and helping others. They found that participants who helped others experienced a lower increase in negative emotions and weren’t as affected by their daily stresses as those who didn’t engage in helpful behaviors.
In essence, the more you help others, the more you help improve your emotional state of happiness.
Napping, fishing, and receiving money may bring joy, but only temporarily. If you want to continually feel happiness in your life, look for opportunities to volunteer. Focusing less on yourself and more on others can provide you with a purpose, a sense of belonging, and a way to lessen the load of your everyday anxieties.