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Happiness. It’s a loaded word. We are constantly trying to understand it so that we can incorporate it into our lives. We try to define our happiness by all the little things that make up our existence. Does our appearance make us happy? Does our health make us happy? Do we feel fulfilled enough in our jobs to feel happy? Are we in love? Do we have a family? Do these things determine our happiness radar, too? And then, once we mull over these things, we measure just how much each aspect of our lives makes us happy. And then we question if we could be happier. It’s a strange and vicious cycle that, ultimately, has you asking many more questions than simply living from a place of peace.

And then, of course, there’s the day-to-day things that give us bursts of immediate happiness. They are so different for each person. It could be as trivial as a bite of chocolate; as easy as curling up on the couch for a movie. Perhaps it’s stepping out for a long and indulgent run, rain or shine, the fresh air smacking you in the face as your blood pumps rapidly throughout your body. Happiness, as we know it, seems like something internal. Until now.

According to leading scientific research, the root of happiness has nothing to do with diving into a bowl of pasta, putting on makeup to enhance your appearance, pumping iron, or even taking advantage of a relaxing movie night. So, while we know that we enjoy external things wholeheartedly, apparently, there’s something much more practical yet surprisingly meaningful to take into consideration.

A new study conducted by Canadian psychologists says that our own personal joy is created simply by being nice — not in terms of being respectful or polite, but by bringing out the good in other people through kindness. One of the study’s authors, Lynn Alden, who is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, says that we should focus on being kind to others in a selfless manner, not a selfish one. “It’s more of an attitude change – being alert of things you can do for other people and doing them spontaneously because you want to do them. It has a side effect of making you feel good,” she explains. She continues to say that we are actually “hard-wired” to appreciate others’ happiness.

For the study, 115 participants with high levels of social anxiety were monitored. What the researchers discovered was that people who feared interacting with others displayed a sense of calmness when they began to perform acts of kindness for others. And it didn’t matter how big or small the act was. It could be as simple as doing yard work for a neighbor, and still, their personal levels of happiness rose, even aiding them in desiring to interact with the individual at hand.

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It seems completely contrary to how the majority of us live our lives in the modern day world. We are in an endless cycle to achieve a sense of greatness in a variety of aspects. We live by the term “survival of the fittest” in order to be the best that we can be. But, Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., who is a psychology professor at UC Berekely, narrates the following video to uncover that sympathy is actually our most powerful intuition. So, perhaps what’s really important is creating a community complete with kindness as a means to achieve our utmost happiness.

Images: Mind Body Green


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