There were 200 people attending a seminar on mental and physical health. At one point, the speaker told the group they were going to do an activity. He gave each attendee one balloon and told them to write their name on it. Then, the balloons were collected and moved into a very small room.
The participants were then asked to go into the other room and were given 2 minutes to find their balloon.
It was chaos. People were searching frantically for their balloon, pushing each other and running into one another while they grabbed a balloon, looked at it, and inevitably tossed it to the side.
At the end of the 2 minutes, no one had found the balloon that had their name on it.
Then, the speaker asked the participants to go back in the room and pick up one balloon at random, look at the name, and return it to its owner. Within minutes, everyone had been reunited with their original balloon.
The speaker then told the group, “This is what it’s like when people are frantically searching for their own happiness in life. People push others aside to get the things that they want that they believe will bring them happiness. However, our happiness actually lies in helping other people and working together as a community.”
You will get your happiness if you help other people find theirs. The Dalai Lama says, “If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Helping others makes us happy because it gives us a sense of purpose. In fact, a study from the London School of Economics found that the more you help other people, the happier you will be. The researchers compared the variance in happiness levels of people who don’t help others on a regular basis to the happiness of weekly volunteers. They found that the participants had the same variance in happiness as those who make $75,000 – $100,000 annually vs $20,000.
Helping others brings us happiness for three reasons:
- Diversion: When you worry less about your own needs–in this case, finding your own balloon–the stress of that hunt decreases. Taking your focus away from the fact that you can’t find your own balloon lets you divert your attention away from your own problem. The feeling of compassion replaces the feeling of need.
- Perspective: Having concern for other people helps us remember that we are all facing similar problems in life–no matter what the individual severity of the issue is. Sometimes when we are focused on our own issues, they get put into perspective when we encounter the true suffering of others (for example, bereavement or a severe disability). It’s easy to then realize the excess amount of attention we’ve been giving our own problems. Having compassion helps us put our problems into perspective.
- Connection: Connecting with others by helping them can bring happiness into your life. Humans are social beings that need to have positive connections with other people in order to be happy. Connecting with other people enriches our lives and gives us a sense of fulfillment.