Often, when we are not fully satisfied with our lives and don’t feel completely happy, we look for the big explanations: not having a partner, not owning our own house, or not having the right job, and we think that just getting one, or all, of them would magically solve the problem.

Certainly having a partner, our own house and a job we love contribute enormously to our level of happiness, but they are not always under our control, and this is what we need to understand. Epictetus said: “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”

Cease worrying about things that are beyond your power of your will. Share on X

Science shows that there are numerous things we can do – which are indeed under our control – that will make us happy. Today we want to focus on kindness, which involves concepts like generosity, care, compassion, and altruistic love, and can be addressed from a scientific perspective as well as from a more spiritual one. We want to focus on the scientific side, but let’s touch the spiritual side briefly first because there are some interesting thoughts worth sharing.

Matthieu Ricard, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, who scientists describe as “the world’s happiest man”, said that altruism (which is the selfless concern for the well-being of others) is the way to happiness: “Thinking about yourself and how to make things better for yourself all the time is exhausting and stressful. (…) It’s not the moral ground, it’s simply that me, me, me all day long is very stuffy. And it’s quite miserable, because you instrumentalize the whole world as a threat [to yourself].”

“Self-centered people who put themselves first may get what they want in an immediate sense, but that kind of happiness doesn’t last”, says Ricard. “They’re soon miserable again, with new reasons to put themselves first and so the cycle continues.” He adds that “seeking happiness selfishly is a sure way to make yourself, or anyone else, unhappy”

Seeking happiness selfishly is a sure way to make yourself, or anyone else, unhappy Share on X

Science backs Ricard’s words. Studies shows that there are regions in the brain that activate when we feel pleasure. Interestingly, in a study published in 2007, researchers showed that charitable giving made these parts of people’s brains light up, particularly when the giving was totally voluntary. The authors believe this is almost literal evidence of that pleasant feeling we get when we do something good for others.

What goes around comes around

What’s good to know is that there are studies that show a kind of “positive feedback loop” between kindness and happiness, meaning that one encourages the other. “The practical implications of this positive feedback loop could be that engaging in one kind deed (e.g., taking your mom to lunch) would make you happier, and the happier you feel, the more likely you are to do another kind act,” says Lara Aknin, the study’s lead author.

continue to part 2