Tomorrow is “World Happiness Day,” an official holiday recognized by the United Nations to honor “a fundamental human goal,” the pursuit of happiness.
Thanks to the burgeoning field of positive psychology, there has been a deluge of new books and information on the secrets to human happiness: Authentic Happiness, The How of Happiness, The Happiness Hypothesis, and Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth just to name a few, all written by researchers and based on the latest science of human flourishing.
There’s only one problem . . . positive psychology has been somewhat self-centered. In other words, all of the books and research is focused on the selfish pursuit of individual happiness rather than tackling the challenges of societal wellbeing.
I thought I would celebrate World Happiness Day by proposing a new book title that is currently missing from the positive psychology bookshelves: “How to Make Other People Happy.” Think about this for a moment. Whether you are a parent or a child, an employer or an employee, a friend or a lover, other people’s happiness (OPH) is very important. Whether it’s your boss, your wife, or your customer, there is someone out there that you need to please.
My suggestion for World Happiness Day is to cast aside your selfish pursuit of individual happiness and consider how the research on wellbeing can be applied, not for personal gain, but for the benefit of those around you. Here are some ideas of happiness strategies that can help get your altruistic juices flowing:
1. Level 5 Good Mornings – I got this from Alex Kjerulf who describes himself as the “Chief Happiness Officer” and writes about “happiness at work” (a concept so foreign that he has to use the Danish word “arbejdsglaede” to describe it.) Alex describes how you can energize your entire office by greeting them every day in a meaningful way.
Level 5 Good Mornings means going beyond the typical “unintelligible grunt” that most workers use to greet each other (Level 1) and even going beyond a simple “good morning” with eye contact and a smile (Level 3). A Level 5 Good Morning includes “something more” such as some personal banter (“how was your weekend?”) and some physical contact such as a handshake or a pat on the back. “You can even hug,” Alex says, “but only if you want to.”
2. Active Constructive Responding – Active Constructive Responding (ACR) is a way of responding to other people that helps them to amplify and savor their positive emotions and experiences. The concept is simple: when somebody shares good news with you, you actively engage in the conversation, asking them to go into greater detail about what happened and how it made them feel. You are helping them to relive and savor the best parts of their day.
Try ACR and you will quickly see that it leads to energizing conversations and elevates the people around you. Research shows that ACR leads to greater intimacy between couples as it fosters a culture of sharing between partners, reverberating and amplifying positive feelings.
3. Be a Helpee – You might think that the best way to make someone happy is to help them out in some way. But helping someone might be better for you than it is for the recipient. You come away with a smug feeling of “goodness” while they may be left feeling weak or feeling guilty for having had to rely on your aid.
More happiness might be created by being a helpee and allowing others to bask in the altruistic glow of their own generosity. Here’s a simple experiment to test this theory: approach any random stranger in a supermarket and ask for their help. Maybe they can verify the ripeness of a cantaloupe for you or point you towards the dairy section. It doesn’t matter what the request is, just make yourself helpable. You will notice that most people’s moods are visibly brightened by being of service.
It is true that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal. But there are some who consider the pursuit of happiness to be shallow, superficial and selfish. Other people’s happiness is a far nobler pursuit, and one that is worthy of an international holiday.
by Jeremy McCarthy
E-book available: The Psychology of Spas and Wellbeing.