If you want to be happy, try to make someone else happy
From an article in Greater Good Magazine
What if happiness comes from aiming to make others happy, instead of doing nice things for yourself? That is exactly what a recent study found.
In the experiment, college students reported on their happiness and on their sense of autonomy, competence, and connection to others—all what researchers consider “basic psychological needs” for well-being. Then they were randomly tasked to do something to either make themselves happier, make another person happier, or socialize. (Assigning one group to socialize helped determine if seeking happiness for another had an effect above and beyond simply being in someone’s presence.)
Later that day, after doing their tasks, participants reported what they did, and then filled out their happiness and needs questionnaires again. Those who’d done something to make another person feel better were much happier themselves than participants in the other groups, and their greater happiness was tied to a stronger feeling of connection to that person.
This finding fits in with prior research on happiness that found giving to others makes you happier than giving to yourself—and that pursuing happiness directly for yourself sometimes backfires.
Making others happy is more meaningful for people than just socializing with them or doing something to improve our own happiness. When we aim to make others happier, we feel connected to them—our relatedness needs are better met—which is important for us.
The researchers also found that a recipient’s happiness level did not seem to be related to the increased happiness of the person trying to make them happy. However, if the participant perceived that their efforts made a difference in another’s happiness, that made them happier. If we think another person is feeling pretty good, that’s enough for us to feel pretty good ourselves.
In another experiment, people parked on a city street were approached by researchers and given parking meter money for filling out surveys about their well-being. In some cases, they were simply given the money to keep or were given the money to feed their own meter before filling out the surveys. In other cases, they were told to feed another person’s meter, with some being asked to leave a note on the dashboard of the stranger’s car explaining what they’d done.
Afterward, the researchers compared the four groups’ happiness and how much their needs felt fulfilled. Those who’d put money in someone else’s meter were significantly happier than those who’d put money in their own meter or just kept the quarters. Leaving a note increased a person’s happiness even more.
It doesn’t require you know the person you’re trying to make happy, nor does it require an actual physical interaction with that person. It still works—even with a stranger. It’s counterintuitive for some people, but if you’re not having the best day, you should think about doing something nice for someone instead of concentrating on yourself.
Read the full article here.