Happiness in Seeking the Welfare of Others

April 12, 2021

Louis Tay

Many of us have heard the old aphorism based on the teachings of Jesus, “it is better to give than to receive.” Often we understand this wisdom in the context of a life well-lived. However, over the years, psychologists have found that this nugget applies to happiness as well. Not only is pursuing happiness for oneself potentially self-defeating, but happiness is also more likely found when seeking the welfare of others.

Psychologist Elizabeth Dunn shows that people who spend money on themselves than others are less happy than those who spend money on others. In a nationally representative survey, individuals who spent a more significant proportion of their income on others are happier than those who spent less. Moreover, when people were given money and randomly assigned to spend money on themselves or others, those assigned to spend money on others had greater happiness levels.

Giving to others – and seeking their welfare – strengthens relationships, which are ultimately critical for the well-being of social animals – like us.

Supporting others can help place our expectations and needs in perspective. We may find that the difficulties we face pale in comparison to others. Or, we may find comfort together as we experience shared challenges.

Especially in times of collective stress, let’s find ways to help others around us. You may just find true happiness in doing so.

Be well,

Dr. Louis Tay

Tay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. He has expertise in well-being, assessments, and data science.  Be sure to check back each week for another wellness tip of the week!

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