30 May Want to know what’s better than doubling your income?
As sent out in this morning's free eNewsletter from The Happiness Institute (you can sign up on our home page) I thought you might like this great article from one of the leading researchers and practioners in the study of positive psychology and happiness, Robert Biswas-Diener (www.intentionalhappiness.com)…
Recently, I tauhgt a university class in which each session began the exact same way. One student, whom I will call Mark, publicly announced that he wanted to quit smoking by the end of our 10 weeks together. At the beginning of each class I simply asked, "Mark, how have you been doing? Have you been smoking?" Each time he said he had not smoked the entire class– 100 students– erupted into applause and Mark grinned. Even the one time Mark slipped and smoked his peers were still very encrouaging, and told him to keep up the effort. By the end of the term Mark was 10 weeks smoke free. More interesting, at least to me, a number of students came to me and confessed that the chance to support Mark felt great to them and was, in fact, the highlight of their entire academic term.
This real world experience speaks directly to the question of whether humans are selfless or selfish by nature. Although some studies of infants have shown that youngsters of one year react to their peers in distress it is only recently that we have been able to look at this phenomenon on a wider scale. Using data from the Gallup World Poll– which covers representative samples of 95% of the world's adult population– my colleagues and I were able to examine the relation between "donating to charity in the last month" and happiness. It turns out that donating to others is consistently associated with higher happiness. How great is this effect? For those who donated, the emotional payoff was about the same as one would expect if their household income magically doubled!
It is true, however, that people in wealthier nations tend to donate greater amounts of money. To take our research a step further we compared people in a rich and a poor country (Canada and Uganda). We asked people in each place to recall a recent tme in which either they spent approximately 20 dollars (adjusted for local purchasing power) on either themselves or on another person. It turns out that in both countries participants reported more happiness when they remembered spending money on others. My colleagues and I suggest that humans are hard-wired for generosity, and that automatic happiness we feel when we lend support or donate money is part of the reward system for look after others.
This is precisely the reason why we feel good when Mark quit smoking, even though all we did was applaud him for his sustained effort. Helping others is a sure-fire way to enjoy a burst of positivity. And it's a lot easier than doubling your family income!
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