A Chinese proverb goes like this:

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.

Happiness is a holy grail that everyone seeks throughout the journey of life. Indeed, our life itself is filled with the desperate search for it.  It is safe to say that pursuit of happiness is the spur behind all our actions. Very few, however, are successful in the striving. It remains an elusive dream for others.

There is hardly a definite formula for happiness. People try to achieve it in their own ways. Many try to be rich in the hope that money will make them happy. Some immerse themselves in hedonistic pleasures. Many more follow ideologies and belief systems. Nevertheless, happiness remains just out of reach.

What if it is the other way around? Rather than focusing on making ourselves happy, what if making others happy is the key?

Selfishness or Selflessness?

Altruism is looked down upon by the self-centered world. We, provoked by the unforgiving competition, have forged an ‘everyone for themselves’ attitude towards life. This has made our society at once selfish and hostile, laying the path for Hitler and Vietnam. Maybe this self-centeredness is the core reason for the widespread unhappiness and deep-rooted insecurity that has infected modern society.

The surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others

– Martin Luther King Jr.

This realization has prompted many thinkers and saints to argue that selflessness is the path towards being truly happy. Compelling experimental evidence also points in this direction. The well-being achieved through other-centered acts is not just speculation anymore. Psychologists now believe that generosity is hardwired into our brains, and resorting to it is pleasurable.

Maybe it has to do with evolutionary biology. Pre-historic humans lived in closely-knit communities where they helped each other. So altruism may have been a primal behavior triggering closeness that is pleasurable to the giving and receiving parties simultaneously. Another theory is called the spillover effect, where the happiness of one determines that of the other.

Science of Altruism.

Recent research conducted by psychologists Milla Titova and Kennon Sheldon shows that trying to make someone else happy leads to greater subjective well-being than trying to make oneself happy. Through their five studies, they found that altruism and other-centered activities are beneficial than seeking personal pleasures.

The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.

– Mark Twain

Also, through experiments, they found out that pro-social behavior increases well-being even if there is no direct personal contact. That is, we can indirectly help someone and yet feel the same satisfaction. So kindness, in whichever way it is served, adds flavor to life.

How to make someone happy?

1. Show gratitude

Though we do thank profusely every day, it becomes a lip service out of social pressure. Expressing genuine gratitude can surely improve the mood of the recipient. Have you ever thanked your wife with all your heart? If not, try doing it today.

2. Express your love

It is easy to say that you love your family and friends. But do they know that you love them? More often than not, people do not feel loved. Make them feel your love and see how happy they get.

 3. Help a random stranger

How would you feel if you got a flat and some stranger who drove by helped you change the tire? Getting unexpected help when it is most needed is sure to make anyone happy. So be that stranger who helps out those in need.

4. Contact a relative or an old friend

You can make a person happy by simply making a phone call. If you have lost touch for a while, the effort is more rewarding. You will find the person surprised and happy, which is enough to make your day.

5. Do volunteer work

Helping out in community kitchens and shelters is a great way to contribute to society. You can also give part of what you earn to persons or organizations that work for the welfare of the marginalized.

6. Mentor someone

One of the most satisfying feelings in life is to help someone grow. From helping a new colleague to teaching a skill that you have acquired through the years, your efforts can be of great help to someone who needs it. Surely their happiness will spill over and make you happy too.

7. Hear someone out

Giving your undivided attention has a therapeutic effect on the speaker. Even if you cannot solve their problem, empathetically hearing someone out can ease their stress.

Paradise is possible on Earth.

Through ages, we have come to believe that, at best altruism is a grand plan to guilt the strong into helping the weak. Now, however, we know that it is not the receiver but the giver that benefits most. Thanks to the hard work and determination of the researchers.

It is good to finally have science tell us that our pursuit of happiness was in the wrong direction. We now have proof for what spiritual masters have been whispering for millennia. To know there is a way, though different from what we thought, towards happiness is relieving. Selflessness is not only a saintly trait but a requirement for a fulfilling life.

Let us build a paradise on Earth by making each other happy.

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