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Spread Happy to Be Happy

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My aunt Jessie was one of the happiest people I’ve ever met…despite the fact that she was divorced, lived on welfare at one time, and struggled to raise two children on her own (okay?). Instead of focusing on her own difficulties, she would focus on bringing joy to others.

If someone in the apartment building where she lived was pregnant, she would immediately knit a baby blanket. If it was someone’s birthday or anniversary, she would bake a cake or some cookies. If someone she knew from out of town was not doing well, she would send them an encouraging note or an uplifting greeting card.

You may not be able to knit a sweater or bake like Aunt Jessie, but there are many other ways you can give of yourself. Here are just three:

Give of your time:

There are all sorts of organizations seeking volunteers. Hospitals and hospices need volunteers to comfort patients. Schools and libraries need people to read to children or to the blind. Volunteer in a food bank to help feed the homeless and the hungry.

Give of your words:

It takes little to tell people something wonderful about themselves. A few kind words of praise can make their day. In addition, it can lift you up when you see them glow with joy about what you just said. Try that with people who often don’t get a lot of praise like checkout clerks at the grocery store, a telephone customer service representative, or the bus driver who frequently encounters snarled traffic and surly riders. Like the ripples of a pond after a stone has been thrown into it, your words to one person can spread and bring a moment of happiness to many.

Give of your treasure:

Several years ago, I was surprised when I received a five-figure check from the estate of deceased friend. Since I believe in giving 10% of all the money that comes into my life to charity, I wrote out a check. But I had a hard time giving that amount of money away. I thought of all the things I could do with it, including buying some top-of-the-line clothing, taking a luxury trip to Europe, or eating at the most expensive restaurants. For days, I agonized over giving away that large amount of money. But, the moment I released it, an amazing thing happened. A physical sense of euphoria and joy washed over me. It was nothing that I had ever felt before and the sensation lasted for a long time.

What I, or certainly Aunt Jessie, didn’t know was the scientific studies validating the connection between what we were experiencing and happiness. One study that was reported in Science, gave participants money to spend on either someone else, give to charity, or buy something for themselves. Those who gave the money to charitable organizations or to others, experienced greater happiness than those who spent it on themselves.

Another study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, documented that helping others can boost our happiness. Among other things, the research found that helping others not only takes our mind off our own troubles, but also gives us both a sense of meaning and competence, as well as lowering our stress levels and improving our mood.

My aunt’s motto was, “Everyday be sure you make at least one person happy.” Not a bad lesson for all of us to heed. So, if you want to be happier, take a lesson from my aunt, put your own problems in the background and do some joyous thing for someone else. It’s the Aunt Jessie guaranteed formula to happiness.

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