Real happiness is not the same as hedonism or selfishness.
Although the pursuit of pleasure (and the avoidance of pain) is not such a bad approach to life, research (and experience, for most of us) has shown that the benefits of hedonism are relatively superficial and short lived.
The positive emotion we experience as a result of just selfishly pursuing what’s best for us doesn’t go deep and it doesn’t last long.
In contrast, we know that one of the most significant contributors to genuine, lasting happiness is connecting with others. The quality (and to a lesser extent the number) of our relationships indubitably reflects the quality of our lives; including the extent to which we enjoy satisfaction and contentment.
Alongside this, scientific evidence has accumulated so strongly and over such a prolonged period of time now that we’re left with no doubt at all that loneliness and isolation are not just happiness killers, but also major contributors to poor mental health.
All of which supports the now famous summary of the “secret” to living a good life, uttered many years ago by one of the founders of the Positive Psychology movement (Chris Petersen), that “other people matter”.
Another way of thinking about this is that happiness isn’t just feeling good, it’s also doing good.
Taking all of this in to account, we’re left with an obvious yet important path to happiness and mental health, one that involves not just our own interests, but also those of others. There are various ways we can build and foster better relationships with others, but one of the most recommended, not just by modern day psychologists but also by the leaders of all the great religions and schools of philosophical thought, is kindness.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying that “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
In support of this approach, science has shown us that being kind is associated with being happier; having a healthier heart; ageing more slowly; having better quality relationships; and an added bonus is that when we’re kind, the positivity spreads throughout social and occupational networks.
So, if you’d like to enjoy a healthier and happier life, try some or all of the following and watch your life, and the lives of those around you, flourish and grow:
- Start by being kind to yourself; you can’t pour from an empty cup! Be kind to yourself, therefore, so you can be kind to others
- Practice “loving kindness” meditation; regularly set aside time to meditate upon the safety, health and happiness of others (those you know and care about; but also, those you don’t know)
- Be present, fully mindful when talking to, working with or just spending time with someone else; one of the greatest gifts you can give is your full attention
- Be kind to others by paying them compliments
- Express your gratitude to someone who’s helped you out (saying “thank you” is easy but very impactful)
- Try not to judge others; rather, accept them for who they are
- Hold the door open for a friend or even a random stranger
- Shout someone a coffee, breakfast or lunch
- Share something you have with someone else who might appreciate it
- Volunteer; or help out someone else in need (in any way you can)
Finally, always remember, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop