Consider two possible scenarios. Tell me which of them you would prefer, and which of them you think will make you happier. The first is winning the lottery. The second is getting paralyzed and becoming a paraplegic.
It seems obvious, right? Fascinatingly, the research turns the obvious on its head. Studies have proven that one year after losing the use of their legs, and a year after winning the lotto, lottery winners and paraplegics are equally happy with their lives.
From studies like this, psychologists have created the term “impact bias,” meaning the tendency to overestimate the hedonic impact of future events. In other words, we far overestimate the happiness, satisfaction, contentment we’ll experience when we become rich and famous. It’s empirically not true that more money will make you happier.
But you know what has been proven to make you happier? Service and generosity. Dozens of studies have shown that helping others, donating to charity, and doing volunteer work all provide the following benefits:
- It makes you feel good. Psychologists refer to the feel-good chemicals released in your body as “helper’s high.”
- It boosts your self-esteem and overall well-being.
- It improves your friendships, strengthens your social connectedness, and reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- It boosts your mood and makes you more positive and optimistic.
- It makes you feel more rewarded, fulfilled, and empowered and enriches your sense of purpose.
- It lowers your stress and makes you more calm and peaceful.
- It makes you more grateful for what you have.
- It strengthens you psychologically and gives you greater ability to bounce back after experiencing challenges and negative moods.
Principle: The Secret to Happiness Isn’t Earning More Money—It’s Helping Others More
Psychoanalyst Manfred Kets de Vries is a therapist who treats the ultra-rich, who she says suffer from “Wealth Fatigue Syndrome.” She says, “For the super-rich, houses, yachts, cars and planes are like new toys that they play with for five minutes and then lose interest in. Pretty soon, to attain the same buzz they have to spend more money. All the spending is a mad attempt to cover up boredom and depression.”
What all of us need to feel more fulfilled and happy isn’t more toys, but rather more meaning through service. Wake up each day inspired to contribute to something bigger than yourself.
There is a Chinese saying that goes: “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.” Our greatest sages have suggested the same thing for centuries: Happiness is found in helping others.
“Making money is a happiness; making other people happy is a superhappiness,” said Muhammad Yunus, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
In my next post, I will offer my seven suggestions on meaning and happiness. I’d love to hear from you in the meantime: what has made you happiest in life, beyond the life events such as births and marriages? Thank you for sharing.
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