by Michelle Blessing
(This article is a follow up to “7 Habits of Happy People“)
The idea that caring for others leads to happiness is common sense to most people; in fact, research shows that caring for others leads to better relationships and lower levels of depression. However, in our fast-paced, modern world, it can be difficult to find the time to care of ourselves, let alone care for others. However, finding that inner peace that leads to happiness is important for both your mental and physical well-being. And caring for others can be as simple or as complex as you decide to make it – from simply helping a friend, family member or stranger in need to making a standing date to volunteer at a hospital or shelter. Whatever you decide, know that you are making an important decision – not just for you, but for others as well.
Unsure where to start? You aren’t alone; many people really aren’t sure how to get started when it comes to showing others how much they care. Although kind words can go a long way, research demonstrates that being an active participant in caring for others leads to higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness. Even as little as once a week can help you reap the benefits of volunteering and caring. And even simple acts of kindness can have huge benefits for your life.
For example, simply holding the door and smiling at the person behind you at the grocery store can boost your happiness levels for the day. And when your happiness levels are boosted, you are likely to carry those good feelings with you throughout the day, leading to more acts of kindness – this creates a “happiness cycle” that can help you achieve higher intensities of life satisfaction. If smiling at a random stranger has the ability to raise your happiness levels, imagine what volunteering on a regular basis can do for you.
Research shows, however, that passively volunteering does not have the same impact as actively volunteering. Passive volunteering means going to the shelter but not engaging with the residents; you simply go in the hopes you will experience some of the happiness and satisfaction that people talk about. However, it doesn’t work and it can actually lead to lower levels of life satisfaction and depression. When you actively participate in the volunteer experience, you learn not only about what you are capable of, but what others are capable of giving to you as well. And I’m not talking about tangible rewards; no, this is much more powerful than that.
When you open up to caring for others, you open up a world of possibility for yourself. You allow people to see what you are made of – your thoughts, your feelings and your life intentions. And that’s just the beginning – when you open yourself up to others, you learn about how other people experience (or don’t experience) happiness. The results of this back and forth relationship can be powerful – and life changing.
So take a chance and make a change; make more of an effort to care for others. If you aren’t sure how to start, start small. Smile at a stranger; it just might make his or her day. Slow down and take the time to appreciate what others have to offer to the world. Remember that everyone has potential, and you just never know how another person can impact your life – or you can impact him or her. When you’re ready, take the next step – volunteer your time with others, especially those less fortunate than yourself. Spending time with others, listening to them and making an effort to understand them can all lead to renewed energy and direction in life. And sometimes that change in direction is all you need to take you on the path to happiness.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dragnfly78/389961836/