The ability to step into happiness is the ability to shift our focus — from ourselves to one another. Here are five selfless acts that will make you happier today:
1. Go fight for something that matters.
As scholar Margaret Mead wisely said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” Even the smallest of acts will allow you to tap into a universal source of happiness and change the world for the better. So shine your picket sign and get active for a worthy cause. Tie up your running shoes and run a race that benefits something larger than your own life.
The Program for Empathy and Altruism Research found that volunteering increases our social interaction hormones and turns up the personal happiness meter because we are, for the most part, social creatures. It also discovered that most volunteer opportunities get us off the couch, off our electronic devices, and onto our feet. This improves not only our happiness but our health as well.
2. Cook for your family.
My sister-in-law gave me a simple present of a fresh herb garden. Every time I snip some rosemary, or run my fingers through the lemon thyme, a burst of life is released into my sensory life. And as I stir the rosemary into fresh tomato sauce, I’m giving back to those I love and that always makes me crazy happy.
I delight in seeing the enjoyment on everyone’s face when they take that first bite of a new recipe that includes something from a kitchen garden. Like so many others, my family is often busy during the week. When we are able to sit down together and share a slowly prepared meal, the happiness factor is something we all feel and appreciate.
3. Read to a child.
When I used to volunteer as a literacy coach at my kids’ elementary school, I noticed that every child who picked up a book burned with the desire to string those ABC’s together into words and sentences. Witnessing their desire to communicate and connect with literature and helping them enter into the world of reading was truly a rewarding experience. My kids are too old to read to or with now, which makes me want to run to the nearest library to volunteer to read with young kids again.
4. Greet everyone you meet.
This one is so easy but it makes a huge difference in my personal happiness index. Simple acts like asking a grocery store clerk how his or her day is going or thanking the person who delivers the mail bring a smile to everyone’s face. These are the small ways we can connect with one another — and those connections really add up! Today, take one moment — whether you're at a grocery store, the post office, or online with your cellphone carrier — and authentically ask someone how their day is going and let them know you appreciate the work they do. Not only will you make someone else feel good, but the good vibes will be reflected right back to you.
5. Be generous and you’ll find your happy place.
Regardless of how you decide to reach out to another being, tapping into the universal energy of lovingkindness can open up an entirely new way to find happiness. About two months ago, an older gentleman who lives in my neighborhood lovingly built a free library and gliding bench on the corner of his house.
The other day, I passed by the little free library and saw a young mother sitting on the bench reading a storybook to her child, whom she’d been walking down the block in her stroller. That’s what I’m talking about. A simple act of reading had a positive impact on that family’s day.
As his Holiness the Dalai Lama has said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” We all are blessed with gifts, which are always meant to be given. Live with generosity and give those gifts freely to as many people as you can. The world will be a better place for it.