Our second Happy Cafe Ely coffee morning last Wednesday focused on the theme of giving. If you missed it or if you came along and want a recap, here’s a brief overview of what we discussed.
The science of giving to promote happiness is a relatively new concept, but the wisdom is an old one which is found in many philosophical and religious traditions. It’s nicely summed up by the phrase ‘do unto others as you would want them to do unto you’
There has been quite a lot of research done on the subject of giving which shows that people who give are generally happier. It also showed a two way relationship between happiness and helping others, a virtuous circle: If we’re happy, we’re more likely to be inclined towards helping others and if we help others, we’re more likely to be happy.
Altruistic behaviour has been shown to release endorphins - feel good hormones - in the brain. Two examples of this are Oxytocin (sometimes called ‘the love hormone’) and Seratonin (also produced by some chemical antidepressant medication). It has also been shown to reduce the levels of Cortisol which is often called the stress hormone.
So what is giving? Action for happiness define it as an act of thoughtfulness for another person, a moment of attention, caring and connection.
When you think of giving, you often think of money but acts of giving don’t have to be money related. There are many ways in which you can give without it costing you anything.
Acts of giving, or random acts of kindness can be anything from smiling at someone in the street, to letting a car out in front of you. There are some great resources to help you thinks about acts of kindness that you can do.
Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, asked participants in a study to carry out 5 acts of kindness each week in addition to what they normally do. These acts could be spread out through the week or done on a single day. Acts could be anything, from donating money, to holding open a door. They could be spontaneous or planned. Happiness levels were measured before and after the study and surprise surprise, they were found to be happier after the experiment.
An interesting finding was that those who carried out all five of their acts on a single day showed the highest levels of increased happiness - something to ponder. Another interesting factor was that those who repeated the same acts of kindness showed no increase in happiness, but those who varied their acts of kindness did.
This highlights the fact that it’s important not to feel burdened by giving, something often felt by those who care full time. It must be what you’re comfortable with and when you’re comfortable doing it. Giving in accordance with your beliefs and values is the best way to get maximum happiness return for your efforts, you often feel an extra sense of satisfaction when it’s something you care about. If there is no opportunity to give or you do not feel able, don’t beat yourself up. Remember to be kind and give to yourself!
These are some of the useful resources and sources used to gather the information in this blog. There are more resources signposted on the Action for Happiness Website.
Book: 10 Keys to Happier Living, Vanessa King
Book: Beyond Happiness, Anthony Seldon