Many people search for happiness, there are websites dedicated to happiness, there is coaching on happiness and there are books and courses on happiness. Millions of dollars are spent in the pursuit of happiness so why is it that so many people still seem unhappy? I often hear people say “I just want to be happy” or “I’m not happy”. We try to find happiness in material possessions, wealth or experiences…”If only I could go on a holiday I would be happy”. The problem with these things is that they can only bring temporary happiness. I believe social entrepreneurs have found the key to happiness.
So what is this illusive thing called happiness and how do we get it?
The definition to happiness is a “state of well-being characterised by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.”
The Happiness Institute described happiness as the following:
- setting and working towards meaningful and positive goals
- having clear priorities about who we are and how we want to live
- managing our energy through sleep, rest, exercise and good nutrition
- recognising that all things bad eventually pass
- celebrating all things good and savouring positive experiences
- taking care of ourselves BUT also being kind and compassionate and caring and thoughtful to/for others
- managing our weaknesses whilst spending just as much time fully utilising our strengths
- having fun and playing and enjoying pleasure in all its various forms
- making happiness a priority
While I believe these things are worthwhile, I can’t help but think that too many of these things are focused on self rather than others.
50% of happiness is in the genes
Martin Reuter, a professor at the University of Bonn, published a paper identifying a gene that can help distinguish generous people from stingier ones.
We inherit two versions of most of our genes, one from each parent – which can be the same or different. Those who are most charitable, Reuter’s research indicated, generally have a positive outlook on the world as well as two copies of a particular gene variant called COMT-Val. Those with one copy of a related gene variant, COMT-Met, are less likely to donate money to a needy child in a developing country, and more likely to have a negative view of life. People with one of each of these genes lie in the middle, according to the research, published in the journal Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience.
Lead author, Bruce Headey of the Melbourne Institute at the University of Melbourne, says the findings suggest genes only account for around 50 percent of well-being, with external factors accounting for the rest.
Helping Others Brings Happiness
Psychologists have been studing what causes an individual’s happiness for decades. In the 1970s many scientists thought that everyone had a set level of happiness – which they always return to – despite life’s ups and downs. This is called “set point theory” and is thought to be determined by genetics and early childhood experiences. However, the idea that happiness is a genetic trait influenced by early life experiences has been challenged by new research from Germany.
The German Socio-Economic Panel survey spent 25 years tracking the happiness levels of 60,000 Germans and seems to have discover the key to happiness. It found that people who were persistently involved in altruistic activities, such as helping people, were more satisfied with life and experience greater happiness. It also found feelings of happiness and wellbeing respond to external factors such as healthy lifestyle, religion and working hours.
Does money buy happiness? Well… yes and no
We spend a lot of money trying to buy things that will bring us enjoyment or spend time pursuing wealth. Yet, we all know people with plenty of money who are still not very happy. Just have a look in the tabloids! So, how can money make you happy?
New research suggests that it is possible to buy happiness after all: when you spend money on others. Study after study has shown that once your basic needs are met and you are not living in poverty, more money does not make you happier. Doctors Norton (Harvard Business School), Dunn and Aknin (both at University of British Columbia) wondered if the issue was not that money couldn’t buy happiness but that people simply weren’t spending it in the right way to make themselves happier. In a series of studies, University of British Columbia Professor Elizabeth Dunn found that individuals report significantly greater happiness if they spend money “pro-socially” – that is on gifts for others or charitable donations – rather than spending on themselves. ” Regardless of how much income each person made,” says Dunn, “those who spent money on others reported greater happiness, while those who spent more on themselves did not ”
How does money buy happiness?
A number of studies have researched exactly why charity leads to happiness. Surprisingly, it has to do with the effect on our brain chemistry. For example, people who give often report feelings of euphoria, which psychologists have referred to as the “Helper’s High.” They believe that charitable activity induces endorphins that produce a very mild version of the sensations people get from drugs like morphine and heroin.
Social entrepreneurs are committed to seeing change, to solving problems and to make a difference in the lives of others. They need to be able to cultivate public compassion for their cause but it is also up to all of us to get involved by helping others and giving.
You may discover that finding happiness is not so difficult after all!
“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 someone else.”