Can we really design a happier life for ourselves? Yes, we can. Research shows you can choose to indulge in ‘happy practices’ that are scientifically proven to put a smile on your face.
The Happiness Club will focus on 10 scientifically proven keys to happiness created by Action for Happiness – one each month this year. I’ve chosen four of my favourite people to join me on my journey in my very own personal Happiness Club – we will be meeting once a month at each other’s houses, book-club style, to focus on one ‘key’ each time and together we aim to create our happiest year yet. (Create your own happiness club here.) Our first month’s ‘happiness key’ is giving.
Why is giving good for you?
Kindness, it seems, is a bit like avocados – happiness’s own superfood. A recent study showed that when people were asked to conduct five new acts of kindness one day a week over a six-week period (even if each act was small), they experienced a big increase in wellbeing. Kindness leads to a virtuous circle – happiness makes us give more, and giving makes us happier, which leads to a greater tendency to give, and so an upward spiral continues.
Happy people are more likely to be interested in helping others. They are more likely to have recently performed acts of kindness or spent a greater percentage of their time or money helping others. Volunteering is also related to increased happiness irrespective of the socio-economic situation of the volunteer. People who give a proportion of their monthly income to charitable causes or spent it on gifts for others were found to be happier than people who did not spend on others.
How to give without being a martyr
So yes, giving is good for us. But I must admit my heart sank, when I read that the first ‘key to happiness’ was giving. I feel that I already give a lot and sometimes by the end of the day, my tank is empty and I’m running on the dregs. I’m good at looking after the needs of others but, if I’m not careful, I can end up being a resentful martyr.
‘For women, this can be a common problem,’ agrees Vanessa King, positive psychology expert at Action for Happiness. ‘My key question is – what’s behind it? We all have chosen roles where a lot is demanded of us – as mums, as partners, as workers and of course juggling these aren’t easy. But do we get in our own way? Is the real problem the way we’re thinking about it?’
Here are some questions to consider:
- What makes us think we have to do everything? We can choose to do the things that really matter and/or take the least effort. What about asking those we are giving to – what is most important for them? And, if you were to stop doing something, what would they suggest that be? Behavioural economist Dr Paul Dolan suggests we should look at our day-to-day experiences – are they fun or purposeful for us? If the answer is no, stop doing them.
- Can anyone else help? We can also be reluctant to ask for help. So why not step back and ponder who could help you and ask them? It’s an opportunity to boost their wellbeing (and your own) and if you ask in the right way and show appreciation when help is received, it can build the relationship.
- Do we actually want a bit of attention and appreciation ourselves? If so, can we talk to our loved ones? Make it appreciative, not a nag. Perhaps remind them of a time of when they did something that made you feel appreciated in the past (however small) and the impact that had on you.
- Let it go – are you trying to be too controlling? I often hear: ‘Well if I don’t do it, no one else will’ or ‘I asked them before and they didn’t do it right’. Maybe we need to challenge ourselves to ask what really needs to be done a certain way and what doesn’t. Where it really is critical gently explain why it is actually important something is done a certain way. I know that explaining takes time and that’s scarce, but can we see it as an investment for making things better in the future.
I look at these questions and know they will certainly give us a lot to talk about in my first Happiness Club. I hope you have good conversations in your Happiness Club this month, too.
Inspiration: ‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted’ – Aesop
QUESTIONS to discuss at your Happiness Club:
The 10 keys of happiness