Posted on February 5, 2013 by Rebecca in Life

There is an old Chinese proverb on happiness that I have recently taken a liking to:

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a month, get married.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody else.

Take note that the first two suggestions are fleeting moments of happiness. A good snooze and a good outdoor hobby gives you a small dose of bliss. Getting married and having lots of money can be life changing experiences but these are things that we adapt to over time. We become used to our partner and the level of income we earn and as humans we often want more.

We all know that stress and unhappiness is not good for the mind or body. While chronic stress and mild depression seems unavoidable in this day and age, perhaps it is more the way we choose to deal with what life throws at us on a daily basis that is contributing to our growing rates of depression, mood disorders and even brain shrinkage!

If you are like me, stress and anxiety are frequent friends of mine, even when I try to approach life with a level of indifference.

In these circumstances, where I appear to have a permanent scowl on my face, practicing random acts of kindness can be the perfect antidote.

This might be helping out the girl in front of me, who is short by a few dollars for her coffee, making room in the traffic for someone to squeeze in or offering to share my umbrella when a bout of haphazard rain hits.

Without a doubt, I always feel much better and the person who is bestowed with my kindness usually lets me know how amazing I am.

And who doesn’t love being told they are brilliant?

Happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, a leader in the field of positive psychology has solid evidence based on her research studies at Berkley University that only 10 percent of our happiness lies in our life circumstances.

This statistic highlights the importance of working out what gives us happiness on an ongoing basis. Most people generally feel that they will “be happier when they lose those few a kgs, win the lotto or get a boyfriend”. The reality is, these do not impact on our level of happiness as much as we believe they will.

So if life circumstances don’t significantly affect our happiness, what does?

Lyubomirsky’s research showed that up to 40% of our happiness depended on what we chose to do each day. And choosing to feel happy comes right back to the Chinese proverb– acts of kindness generates the best improvement in wellbeing and happiness.

Now before you start getting overwhelmed with your inability to whip up a batch of soup for the homeless – take note that acts of generosity needn’t be onerous. As I said before, it could be as simple as offering to help an elderly person cross the street or helping a mum with her pram on the train.

According to Lyubomirsky, variety is key- these acts should be random, innate and practiced more than once per day. Yes – Lyubomirsky’s research showed marked increase in her student’s happiness when several acts of kindness were performed daily.

But what do you think?

What acts of charity have you performed on a daily or weekly basis?

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