How Givers Make Us All Happier
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
All of us are born believing we’re the center of the universe and why shouldn’t we? It works, for a while anyway. We come into the world totally helpless and can only survive by crying loud enough to let our needs be known. For most babies, it works like a charm because adults drop everything and come running to our aid. Parents and grandparents will do almost anything to make us comfortable and happy if we’ll just quit crying! Self-centeredness is a survival instinct we’re born with.
By the time we‘re toddlers we begin to find out that selfishness is not okay, which comes as a huge shock to our little soul. We become very unhappy when we find out we have to do things like share and take turns!! Seriously, who made up these rules? How radical!
As we grow up and become more mature we keep trying to find that magic balance between “taking care of number one” and being considerate of others and their needs. For some, it’s a lifetime struggle. It seems some people are born givers and others will always be takers.
In his fascinating book Give and Take, Adam Grant discusses how the various personality types get along in business and in the workplace. It seems that Givers, those people who gravitate toward always preferring to give more than they take often appear at the top of the list of the most successful but ironically, you’ll often find them on the bottom rungs as well. Why is that?
Takers often seem to be the winners in a dog eat dog world. Over time, though, the naturally collaborating, sharing, empowering Givers become the champions. The key once again is balance. Givers are naturally willing to give more than they receive but must remain aware of their own needs, too. The focus on others has to be coupled with a healthy dose of concern for themself, so they don’t burn out or get burned. That’s how they can successfully help others and still help themselves.
There’s been a huge spike in interest and attention to the subject of “happiness” in the past few years. Hundreds of books and magazine articles have been written to teach people how they can be winners in the elusive search to be happy. Researchers have poured years into finding ways to increase the level of happiness we feel.
Over and over, one thing emerges as a clear path to increasing happiness. We simply need to move our attention from our own concerns and focus instead on serving the needs of others. Countless studies have shown that volunteering or performing acts of helpfulness and kindness for others has immediate and long-lasting effects on well-being.
A 2015 Huffington Post article stated if we have a positive impact on someone else, it can change our own outlook and attitude. Experts say that performing acts of kindness boosts our mood and ultimately makes us more optimistic and positive. In a study by United Health Group, 78 percent of people who volunteered over a 12-month period said they felt that their charitable activities lowered their stress. They were also more calm and peaceful than people who didn’t participate in volunteer work.
Don’t we all love and admire a giver? Research shows that simply watching someone else perform an act of kindness enhances our well-being and gives us the desire to do the same. It’s really kind of amazing to realize the effect that simply observing selfless giving has on us.
In two very different scenarios this past weekend we witnessed just how profoundly inspired and influenced we are by observing truly generous, kind and giving people and the way they live. Right here in Nebraska, we witnessed an enormously emotional outpouring of love and respect for Sam Foltz, a young member of the Cornhusker football team who lost his life in a car accident a few weeks ago. He was honored across the state and across the country for his naturally giving, loving, encouraging spirit. He made a huge impression with the way he lived every day, with the people whose lives he touched, one by one. Thousands were moved by the legacy of greatness he left in a life that spanned only 22 short years.
On Sunday, September 4, we witnessed another event, this one on the global stage, the canonization of “Mother” Teresa. This tiny woman was an iconic servant to some of the most ignored, poorest, and totally helpless people on the planet, those dying in the streets of Calcutta. Mother Teresa was 87 when she died, having served since she was 18. Her work impacted literally millions.
Mother Teresa would have loved Sam Foltz and applauded him for everything that he did. She was a person who fervently believed the world could be a better place, drop by drop, person by person. In her words, she taught “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” Sam did that. She also told us, “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”
Most of us are unlikely to ever be a Mother Teresa and become a saint but we can all take a lesson from Saint Teresa, Sam Foltz and others like them. We will always increase our happiness and more than that, find greater purpose and meaning in our life if we seek first to become focused on others and make an effort in our every day to bring joy to others.
“It’s not enough to have lived.
We should be determined to live for something.
May I suggest that it be creating joy for others,
sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind,
bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.”