I will admit it. I know I am not the only one. I am always looking for ways to be a more joyful person, the secret to happiness, if you will. I have done a lot of reading and research over the years on the subject of happiness and I was surprised with what I discovered.
The Secret to Happiness
In the last few years, there has been a real movement in our society toward gratitude. Expressing gratitude and counting our blessings can make a real tangible difference in our outlook on life. In fact, I have even heard rumblings about studies that have talked about how gratitude can change the way you think and even the way your brain functions! Clearly gratitude is essential to living a more fulfilling life.
If you do your research, you will also learn about the profound effects exercise has on your mental state. There is clear research that proves exercise can be more effective at times than anti-depressants on a long term basis. I have also personally met people that can attest to the positive impact that exercise has had on their mood.
Many years ago, during a bad bout with depression, I was in therapy and my therapist gave me homework to try and help me out of the state I was in. Yes, I was taking medication, but she added some other important daily requirements. I was to wake up every morning and before letting a foot touch the floor, I had to identify 5 things I was grateful for. It didn’t matter how small they were, but my job was to start my day with a mindset of thanksgiving.
I was also to go for a walk and get outside every single day as well. But the third thing she required of me? I was to get outside of myself and do something for someone else every single day. It didn’t matter if it was just a simple email to a friend or putting down my phone and playing with my son, in an effort to not get swallowed up by the darkness of depression and anxiety, I needed to become others focused.
I never realized the significance of these daily acts of service until I was watching a film recently entitled Happy (affiliate) The movie examined the definition of the word “happy” (I prefer the term “joy” which seems to transcend circumstances and aligns better with my faith) and how the definitions and requirements vary from country to country and situation to situation.
The film examined some of the well-known correlations to happiness, including meditation, gratitude and living in community. But what stood out to me that most is that according to studies, the number one thing you can do to increase happiness, more than being grateful, is to serve others and to be others focused. Apparently my therapist knew what she was talking about all those years ago!
In the movie, one of the examples they showed of a life of service was of a man who believed he was truly happy by giving his life away in service to a home of sick and dying men. He spoke of the true joy he experienced by serving this type of hospice environment. It was his job to do menial tasks like give them sips of water and wipe the drool from their chins, yet he talked about how this gave his life meaning that he had never known before.
I admit, it was hard for me to watch that kind of tragedy and hardship close up, let alone go experience that kind of suffering first hand. But I think when we avoid hard feelings and difficult situations like that, we are also missing out on the joy that serving and giving can bring. So while there a million smaller ways you can give back that are more comfortable for you, going outside of your comfort zone and giving back to people in these bigger, more difficult ways just may give us more joy as well.
So what are some bigger and smaller ways we can serve and give ourselves to others, knowing that not only it will benefit others but also ourselves? I have started a list, but I would love for you to help me add to it! Once we have complied enough ideas to fill a page, I will offer it as a free printable on my site. Because you know me, if it’s not written down on paper where I can see it, I will never remember to do it! =)
Smaller ways you can serve others in your everyday life:
-Email, text, call a friend with some encouraging words (better yet, send a note the old fashioned way!)
-Bake something and share it with a neighbor or friend.
-Volunteer to bring a friend a meal (even if they haven’t just had a baby or a death in the family! Meals can help out that mom who has been feeling extra frazzled lately!)
-Offer to drive your friend’s kids to school or cub scouts or dance.
-Give a friend a gift card for a pedicure (and offer to babysit) so she can get a much needed break with pampering!
-Bring your child’s teacher his or her favorite coffee drink.
-Offer to take your neighbor’s kids to the park next time you go.
-If you are heading to Target, ask your neighbor if they need anything while you are there
-Drop off flowers at your mom’s house (or your sister, a friend or even a stranger!)
-Ask your elderly neighbor if he or she would like to go on a walk around the block with you and your toddler (they walk at pretty much the same speed anyway, although for different reasons!)
Bigger ways you can serve others in the world around you:
-If you live near a big city, look into serving at a homeless shelter once a month.
-Look for opportunities at a woman’s shelter. We have a home nearby for woman and children where you can go hold babies and play with the children while the mom’s go to recovery classes.
-Pack meals (as a family!) with Kids Against Hunger
-Do a month long session of Random Acts of Kindness with your kids.
-Pack up Blessing Bags (or even just bag lunches) and pass them out to the homeless.
-Volunteer to deliver Meals on Wheels
-Have a birthday or holiday coming up? In lieu of gifts, ask people to donate to a specific charity in your name.
-Volunteer as a family at a local retirement home (especially if your kids can sing or play instruments).
-Travel to another country to work with those in need (check your church for opportunities for this- or check out this great Christian organized called Young Life Expeditions that sends teams to serve all of the world!)
Have more ideas to add to our “Ways to Serve” List? Have any personal experiences with a way in which serving others has given you more joy? Or have you found something else that you think is the secret to happiness? Please share below!