How giving back makes you happier.

I get asked a lot of questions about happiness, and people pretty frequently quiz me about the motivation and impetus behind its pursuit. Lots of folks see happiness as a flighty and self-centered quest, as though seeking happiness were all about hedonism and personal satisfaction.

But that’s not what happiness is all about. Happiness has a larger purpose. Happiness is good for the world.

Here’s why: Happy people are more generous. They’re kinder and more involved with their community. Happy people have a positive effect on their immediate environment. Basically, they have a ripple effect on the people and places and organizations they come in contact with. They add TO the world, and help make it a better place. We know this from research.

Happy people don’t start wars, fall prey to corporate greed or perpetuate injustice — unhappy, misguided people do. If the world were full of happier humans, it would be a more just and peaceful place.

But, and this is a big but, when it comes to happiness and the pursuit of such, there’s a huge piece of the puzzle that tends to be missing from the traditional American paradigm: giving back. In America, we’re led to believe that happiness is all about us — that it’s a personal and individual endeavor. And while it’s crucially important to value and honor our individual selves (self-care you guys!), we can’t be happy without meaningful interactions and relationships with other human beings.

We need other people in order to be happy. And one of the most meaningful, fulfilling ways we can connect with others is through giving back. Giving back makes you happier. Volunteering, performing random acts of kindness, helping people who need it = all equal instant joy. There’s lots of research that leads to this conclusion, including a recent analysis that suggests volunteers have a 20 percent lower risk of death than non-volunteers, plus lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being. And um, who doesn’t want those things?

Giving back adds to well-being in so many ways, I couldn’t possibly acknowledge them all in one blog post. It’s the ultimate source of the warm fuzzies. It makes you feel more connected and engaged with other human beings. It ups your compassion quotient. It gives you a sense of civic pride and efficacy. It’s a win, all the way around.

Because it’s the holiday season, people are more inclined to look for opportunities to help and give back, which is AWESOME. Gotta love that Christmas spirit! But unlike eggnog, charity work isn’t something you should treat yourself to only around the holidays. Give yourself the gift of giving back all year round. You’ll be way happier for it.

Whatever your cause of choice, there are countless ways to get involved. The important thing is that you DO IT. For your own sake, and for the sake of the world. <3

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