Focus on the Happiness of Others to Boost Your Own Happiness

by | Feb 26, 2018 | Get Past Anxiety Tips

Focus on the Happiness of Others to Boost Your Own Happiness


In 2007, nine wildfires broke out around San Diego. People all over the county instantly found themselves displaced and worried about their belongings turning to ash.  Even as she was evacuating Joan Hurwit, a college student, decided to focus on helping her fellow community members, rather than sit idly by and watch as the world around her burned. 

To lift their spirits, Hurwit put on a makeshift comedy show, which she now describes as one of the coolest things she’s ever done. 

“We had people of all ages sitting together in the same audience, laughing at the same jokes, despite the questionable status of their homes and belongings. It was a cathartic and bonding experience for both the performers and audience, relieving stress and sadness even temporarily,” she said. 

This action was just one of many where Hurwit fixated on the happiness of others, which directly increased her own joy.

“My experiences volunteering have significantly influenced who I am, why I do what I do, how I cope with loss and stress, and how I bond with my community,” Hurwit explained. 

Helping others, and desiring to make people around you happier, will turn around and make you experience greater peace and wellness too. 

There is a Chinese saying that goes: “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 year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” 

There’s more than just an old Chinese proverb that supports this claim too. According to Jenny Santi writing in Time Magazine, evidence has found that altruism creates pleasure. 

In the same Time Magazine article written by Jenny Santi, she states that “through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex.” 

Findings published by Mental Floss state that “one team of sociologists tracked 2000 people over a five-year period and found that Americans who described themselves as “very happy” volunteered at least 5.8 hours per month.” 

On top of that, lower blood pressure, closer friendships, a sense of belonging, relieving chronic pain and promotion of positive behaviors are more of the ways in which focusing on the happiness of others can increase your own happiness. 

Hurwit figured this out early on. Discovering the value of pouring into others lead to her creation of ITLT, which stands for “It’s the Little Things,” and is an organization that’s dedicated to making a difference by promoting creative acts of kindness.  

The group works closely with homeless centers, domestic violence women’s shelters, children’s hospitals, animal shelters, environmental awareness organizations, and other in-need groups. 

ITLT members are “compassionate and creative individuals across the world,” Hurwit explains. She also says the organization, which is now four years old, was started so that “anyone anywhere could make a positive impact in their community.”  

Through all of her time serving others, Hurwit has seen the benefits such works and ideals bring. 

“The goal is to help others, of course. But if you find purpose or joy in volunteering, if volunteering makes you a more well-rounded, socially conscious citizen, I have to believe that those efforts contribute to the ripple effect of goodness and kindness. Those are ingredients of which you can never have too much,” she said. 

So, how can a person who hasn’t volunteered in the past begin to feel the upsides it brings?  

The first step is to find your passion. 

By discovering the things that you care about, the things that keep you up thinking at night, the things you can passionately talk about for hours to anyone who listens, you can find groups and volunteer opportunities that strive to better those things and begin working for a cause you care about. 

It’s one thing to volunteer for an organization you mildly support, but to work for one that cuts deeply into your soul means you will be that much more committed to it and feel that much more joy in dedicating time to it. 

Next up, decide to give your time. 

Not all of us have endless funds, but we do have the gift of time. By spending your hours helping others, you’ll receive something far more valuable than what money can buy. You’ll watch as your committed time leads to changing the lives of others and helping nonprofits and organizations grow.  

This doesn’t mean you have to quit your day job and use all that time to volunteer. It just means deciding to set aside a few hours a week or month to do something for others, rather than yourself 

Thirdly, look into ways to use your talents and skills. 

Every person on earth is born with and given unique minds, aptitudes, and abilities. You may not be able to build a house, but perhaps you can play beautiful guitar chords for the elderly to hear and be comforted by. 

Using your uniqueness to profit others will make you feel good about yourself and your accomplishments, while simultaneously helping others.  

Hurwit and ITLT know that it isn’t just dollars or minutes out of a day that someone can contribute to others. Your expertise, capabilities, and competences can also play a role. 

“Not everyone has the time to dedicate to regularly volunteering or donating money to causes they care about, but that shouldn’t preclude them from having meaningful opportunities to affect positive change,” said Hurwit 

Of course, giving monetarily is always an option. This too will undoubtedly make you feel good. But if you can use your passions, talents and time to increase individual’s or group’s wellbeing, you may find yourself feeling just a bit more rewarded.  

In a world where every method imaginable is used to find happiness, one more, proven way can only be welcomed. Seeing a smile on a stranger’s face when you serve them food at a homeless shelter, watching as a child accomplishes their goals thanks to your teachings or experiencing the warmth of a mother’s hug because you took the time to build her a new kitchen are moments that can’t be measured. And, that’s exactly what happiness is- an ideal or feeling that can’t exactly be measured. Yet, it’s one you surely don’t want to miss out on. Volunteering, serving and focusing on the happiness of others can only help you get closer to explaining and experiencing that feeling for yourself.

The therapies and modalities discussed in this post are not intended as a replacement for the reader’s individual counseling, but rather as an example of some of the techniques used in therapy. Readers should consult their own physicians or therapists to determine the best program for their individual recovery from anxiety.

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