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  • Pat­rina M. Clark, SPHR, HCS, RACC
    Speaker | Trainer | Con­sul­tant | Coach
10 Oct

Wisely Self­ish: The Key To Happiness

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A piece of choco­late cake, a new TV, a week on the beach. We spend so much of our lives try­ing to achieve one sim­ple and wor­thy goal: hap­pi­ness. Most of what we do is moti­vated by this aim. But how well are we doing? This slice of cake may bring us hap­pi­ness for a few moments, and the first few foot­ball games on the new TV are great. But this hap­pi­ness is tran­si­tory, stay­ing with us for only a short time. We begin to take the TV for granted and the relax­ation we took home from the beach fades as we get back into our daily rou­tine. Chances are, if you clicked on this arti­cle you feel there could be at least a lit­tle more hap­pi­ness in your life.

The trick is to use our energy and effort in the pur­suit of authen­tic, last­ing hap­pi­ness rather than momen­tary plea­sures. But, how do we do this?

The Secret: Be “Wisely Selfish”

The Dalai Lama says “It is impor­tant that when purs­ing our own self-​interest we should be “wise self­ish” and not “fool­ish self­ish.” Being fool­ish self­ish means pur­su­ing our own inter­ests in a nar­row, short­sighted way. Being wise self­ish means tak­ing a broader view and rec­og­niz­ing that our own long-​term indi­vid­ual inter­est lies in the wel­fare of every­one. Being wise self­ish means being com­pas­sion­ate.” Our own hap­pi­ness, he says, is most effec­tively achieved by putting our strength and effort into giv­ing to other peo­ple. But is this really true? It seems almost counter-​intuitive, hav­ing grown up in a cul­ture so focused on self inter­est. But despite such doubt, there is pro­found evi­dence that points us in the other direc­tion – that giv­ing really is one of the best ways to achieve last­ing happiness.

Two recent stud­ies strongly sug­gest this to be the case. In one, sub­jects were asked to take a sur­vey mea­sur­ing life sat­is­fac­tion before and after spend­ing ten days per­form­ing a daily act of kind­ness. Their reported hap­pi­ness increased dra­mat­i­cally after the ten days and com­pared pos­i­tively to a con­trol group that had not been directed to do kind acts. The next study found that peo­ple expe­ri­enced a great deal more hap­pi­ness and sat­is­fac­tion when they chose to spend money on some­one else rather than themselves.

Why Does Giv­ing Bring Happiness?

Psy­chol­ogy sug­gests a few rea­sons for this. First, altru­ism is in our genes. The desire to care for our fam­ily mem­bers was essen­tial to the sur­vival of the group, thereby increas­ing the chances of our own sur­vival. The desire to care for our chil­dren, of course, is nec­es­sary for the sur­vival of our genome. The nat­ural hap­pi­ness we expe­ri­ence when giv­ing to oth­ers can be thought of – a least in part – as a kind of “reward” for doing what is best for our genes.

Per­haps more rel­e­vant is the fact that kind­ness nat­u­rally cre­ates com­mu­nity. It is easy to see that those who give to oth­ers a lot are cher­ished by many peo­ple, that they are rarely lonely. This is a key fac­tor in our hap­pi­ness too – accord­ing to Psy­chol­ogy Today, rela­tion­ships are one of three essen­tials for us to achieve last­ing happiness.

Work­ing for the ben­e­fit of oth­ers also takes our mind off our own wor­ries. Our brain can only focus on one thing at a time, and putting our atten­tion on oth­ers not only puts things in per­spec­tive and lets us feel that we are not alone as we are faced with the dif­fi­cul­ties of other peo­ple, it also gives our sub­con­scious a chance to cre­atively work out solu­tions to our own prob­lems instead of our con­scious mind cre­at­ing more and more worry with no sight of a way out.

What To Do Now?

With­out prac­tice, all of this is noth­ing but a nice thought. We’ve been so con­di­tioned and cre­ated such strong habits of think­ing only for our­selves that this will not change over night. How­ever, with a lit­tle com­mit­ment things can change more quickly than you imag­ine. Begin with two steps:

· Be aware. Just observe your­self and notice when you are act­ing with a self­ish motive and when your acts con­cern oth­ers. Watch your thoughts the same way. Don’t judge your­self – this is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and will actu­ally hin­der you in your pur­suit, as we con­tinue with what­ever pat­tern we put our focus on – just notice, change will arise nat­u­rally from this awareness.

· Cul­ti­vate a daily prac­tice. One act of kind­ness each day. Big or small, it doesn’t mat­ter – just be sure to delib­er­ately give in some way to some­one else. Write this act down in your jour­nal at the end of each day.

As we begin to explore our true poten­tial, there is lit­tle more valu­able than the sup­port of oth­ers. If you are inter­ested in the sup­port we offer, please con­tact us and we’d be happy to talk.

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