In two weeks, I’ll be graduating with my master’s degree in Psychology. Why at 46 did I decide to go back to school? Mid-life crisis reframing was definitely part of it, but I was also compelled to return to school because I was inspired by the new field of positive psychology. Positive psychology focuses on why some people flourish – and are incredibly happy – while most others just get by or, even worse, suffer from severe mental health issues like depression and anxiety. With ever-increasing numbers of young people (and adults) suffering from mental illness and the average age of onset getting lower each year, I wanted to know how the people I love and work with can be in that 17% who thrive in life, or are what positive psychologists call “flourishing.”
Besides reading just about every book positive psychology researchers have written, I conducted my own study on how summer camp contributes to happiness and social skills development. That study became my master’s thesis, which I finished a few short weeks ago. And, even though my thesis is at the bindery and I’m officially done with my degree, I’m still reading every new book and article that covers the latest positive psychology research. I’m hooked! In the past, I’ve written about happiness habits, especially gratitude, that research has shown will actually improve overall well-being. Today I want to share one simple, proven tip to increase happiness in adults and children alike.
It’s that easy. When we become others-centered and give something to someone else—time, talent, or treasure—we are happier. This begins with getting ourselves and our kids outside the bubble of thinking exclusively about our own needs.
We don’t always have to give money (which most kids don’t have much of anyway), but that is certainly one way to give. With the recent earthquake in Nepal and people suffering deeply there, we can talk as a family about giving up something (like dinner and a movie out) and instead donating that money to one of the charities working in the devastated region.
We can give in many other ways, too. We can give our time and mentor someone who’s interested in our profession, and we can encourage our kids to tutor a younger child. We can give positive words via phone, snail mail, email, text, or in person. And, of course, we can give away some of our stuff. Even better, we can buy something new for someone who needs it more than we do. There are so many great resources showing who in our area needs our time or donations. (One that I really like is VolunteerMatch.org.)
Try some giving with your family and see if it makes you happier. The research says it will!
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