The Paradox of Happiness

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How can we be happier persons? Gift-love may be the answer, which can be described as a sincere love of others that we typically identify with spiritual and moral goodness. We might think a fancy house, a nice car and a high income will make us happy. But in the long run the people that have the least are the most happy. How can this be? These people have more selfless motives. This describes the paradox that underlies human flourishing. When we have a selfless attitude we experience more inner joy and discover a happier and healthier self. How can we learn from them?

We might start by giving away our money. What? Yes! We all stress out when we are low on money, but different studies show that when we give money away our cortisol decreases, which is a stress hormone in our body. This is because if we don’t give the money, we might feel ashamed which causes or body to respond with higher stress levels. In another American study, people received either a $5 bill or a $20 bill and were told to spend the money on themselves or someone else. The people who spend the money on others were happier at the end of the day.

Why does giving away the money makes you happier? Theories suggests that this may foster a sense of social connectedness. The more modest you mean, the more you and your close family and friends may need to rely on one another to get by; hence, the greater focus on generosity. Second, giving money away gives you a sense of making a difference. For example, when you give away money to a homeless person, you are assured he will have a safe place to sleep. I remember myself ignoring homeless people when I was younger. But now after experiencing financial burdens, I feel like I have become a more generous and grateful person. Now, I never leave a homeless person without money. When I have some pennies with me, I always give. Even when I am low on money, because now I really care about them. I also feel like I’m more sparing on food. In the past I would throw a lot of food away, but now I feel grateful I can eat. It is true that having less money makes you value the little things more that we normally take for granted. So are you sometimes worried about money? Just give it away!

You may wonder if giving away will not interfere with personal success. Of course we all want to thrive in this world and lead a successful life, but giving to other people doesn’t mean we have to give less to ourselves. It is important to keep in our minds that we mustn’t hurt ourselves when we help another. Else, it will backfire on us and in the end we will be too exhausted to give help to others. Adam Grant, professor and author of New York Times bestseller ”Give and Take”, reveals the surprising success of givers. During his research he discovered that there is a group of people who are productively generous. These people reject three commons beliefs about giving.

First, giving is not about being nice. Being generous and nice are not the same things. When you think you have to be nice all the time, you might fail in setting up boundaries. Help others, but don’t harm yourself. Dare to say no, if it will cost you. Because being generous is not the same as being a doormat. Second, giving is not about altruism. When you help others, you can’t be completely selfless. Because when you are, you risk becoming too exhausted to keep giving. Of course your act has to come out of selfless love, but it’s important to guard your own resources. Third, giving is not about refusing help from others. The greatest difference between failed and successful givers is the willingness to seek and accept help. Great givers are also great receivers. If you are too afraid of asking help from others, you will lack the support of others. You will need others to thrive. And there’s a great difference between using people and accepting help from people. The last one means, you are willing to pay back the favor when that friend ask you for help. In the end, to thrive, we have to help each other.

And that explains the paradox of happiness. When we help people, people will help us. We will thrive together. And we will be happy, not only because we have thrived ourselves, but especially because we helped thriving somebody else that we love! That is what gift-love is about, what will lead to sustainable happiness; an enduring inner joy.

‘’What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.’’ – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Written by Sadja Faili

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