What will make you happier: seeking pleasure or doing good?
Science has shown that doing good makes people feel better faster than simply doing something they like. But why?
Here are 5 reasons:
One study assessed whether people were happier on days when they sought pleasure or engaged in meaningful activities, such as helping others, listening to a friend’s problems or pursuing their goals. They found that the more meaningful activities people participated in, the happier they were. Other studies have found that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. In addition, the sense of well-being that accompanies volunteering or kindness lasts longer than similar feelings you get from seeking pleasure.
In Tennessee, 24% of people volunteer
Studies also show that people report that their lives feel more purposeful after doing good than seeking pleasure. Human beings seek meaning, so while it’s possible to enjoy things that are purely pleasure-driven, we’re more likely to enjoy and remember activities that leave us with a sense of accomplishment or pride.
Michele Myers, a BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee account executive for 24 years, was a recipient of people giving back when times were tough for her family. She now gives back through the BlueCross Team Blue employee volunteer program. She’s worked with Habitat for Humanity, St. Jude Memphis Marathon and has built playgrounds in underserved areas.
“When people ask why I give back, I think about how important that was for us: for people to show up,” she explains. “There’s a connection that’s made when you’re at a low point and look up to see someone you don’t know who just wants to help. We all need that.”
Some experts consider loneliness a greater public health risk than obesity, smoking or alcoholism. Physically, ongoing isolation can negatively affect a person’s attention span, hormones, ability to think clearly and lifespan. Conversely, doing something positive for another person and connecting with them can make you happier and healthier.
Studies have found that:
- Social connection can decrease a person’s risk of early death by up to 50%
- Time spent with friends, relatives and coworkers is more inherently rewarding than time spent alone
- Doubling your number of friends — meaning true, real-life friendships, not just those formed on social media — can make you as happy as if you made 50% more money
Studies show that helping others while expecting nothing in return may make you healthier than receiving help yourself. That’s because it feels good to help someone, of course, but also because giving is something you can control while receiving — whether it’s a gift, a service or simply kindness — is not.
Experts also believe that people derive more happiness from spending money on others than spending money on themselves. Even better: the amount of money doesn’t matter; It’s the act of giving someone something that makes people happy.
3 ways to maximize your efforts to give back
If you want to try doing good, there are a few things to look for to make the most of the experience — for yourself and the people you want to help:
- Look for opportunities to use your skills and talents. Studies show that people who consistently use their strengths in a new way are happier than those who don’t.
- Give time, not money. Time is a more personal commitment, and it requires you to really engage with the people you’re helping.
- Find organizations that have specific, transparent goals that match your own. Devoting your time to one organization on a long-term basis rather than committing small amounts of time to lots of different causes helps create a meaningful connection.