It’s officially December.
Gym work outs are ramped up following Thanksgiving gluttony.
Credit cards quietly weep from Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.
Grand plans unfold to close another year and open a new book of 12 exciting chapters.
And today, the Giving Tuesday hashtag permeates our digital life.
I live in New York City, which is magical this time of year.
But in my daily hustle amongst 8.5 million other people - 11,000 miles away from my native Australia - it can also be a season interrupted by a somber awareness of a lack of true intimacy in my life and a frenetic need to conquer an endless list of priorities.
As conversations begin to swirl around end of year themes and new resolutions, the topic of happiness is under the spotlight.
“I just want to laugh a lot next year”
“I want love. Real love. Not this New York ‘monogamous-in-the-moment’, love”
“I just want to be happy. And actually make a difference”
I am blessed to have an incredible social circle around the globe and be engaged in meaningful work. I recently had dinner with Nic Marks of Happiness Works after we were both presenters at a Human Innovation Gathering for the 100% Human at Work initiative.
Nic defines the key ingredients to happiness as:
Connect // Be Active // Take Notice // Keep Learning // Give
If you google “the happiest man in the world”, you will meet Matthieu Ricard: former scientist turned Buddhist Monk, author and TED speaker. Ricard says:
“If you really want to be happy, he said, stop trying to be happy, and go help someone else instead”
His notion of the ‘caring economy’ is at odds with our pursuits to maximize wealth, life content and pleasure. In his book titled Altruism, he notes that compassion and selflessness form a more stable source of happiness than selfishness.
“Altruistic love is accompanied by a profound feeling of fullness and it also turns out to be the state of mind that activates the most brain areas linked to positive emotions. One could say that altruistic love is the most positive of all the positive emotions.”
So being altruistic can change your brain?
Ah, yes! While a single act of generosity can make you feel momentarily warm and fuzzy, the repetition of this behavior can physically alter the structure of the grey matter in the “pleasures centers” in your brain, i.e. the parts of your brain that are active when you experience Sea Salt Caramel Gelato or sex.
Sustaining selfless acts of compassion and generosity can have a tremendous effect on our health, longevity and personal happiness. And in turn, you are spreading goodness to the people (or the planet) that are on the receiving end of your generosity.
There are many published studies that prove that giving to others increases well-being above and beyond spending money on ourselves. Of course, money is not the only currency in giving. If you are fiscally hungover from holiday splurging, you can seek other means to give beyond dollars. Some are outlined in my article The Art of Giving.
While a hashtag alone will not drench you in elation, use #GivingTuesday as a moment to pause on the hunting and gathering of pleasure. Look inward and ignite your primal empathetic instincts to be kind, compassionate and generous today. And then do it again tomorrow.
Nic Marks notes:
"Happiness is more of a process than a state. It is fluid not fixed. A wave not a particle. So relationships are more the core of happiness than things"
So, love people and use things. Because the opposite never works.