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Generosity: An Integral Journey to Happiness

It’s time to come back to the extraordinary sentiment that never goes out of style — generosity. The perfect time.

More and more businesses are being designed on the basis of having a positive social effect and newer generations are motivated by the idea of living a balanced, meaningful life. As a society, we have become even more aware of our power for positive change, and we seem to be focused on what matters most – making a difference – even in the smallest of ways.

Still, getting wrapped up in a consumerist way of life is pretty easy, and obtaining the newest iPhone, or the hottest fashion trends can become our life’s sole purpose while we aren’t really paying attention. If we don’t regulate these behaviors they can lead us down the wrong path, and we may become really consumed with ourselves.

In truth, even though in the past people used to rely on non-consumptive activities, such as going for a walk, spending time in nature or even visiting a friend, nowadays the norm is for sad and depressed people to mask their feelings by consuming as much as possible; clothes, cars, houses, jewelry, anything will do, as long as it comes with a healthy dosage of escapism.

It’s only natural, if you stop and think about it; is the world a place where all people can be happy? Have we yet achieved the dream of love and peace among mankind? Have we even taken a step forward in treating the environment any better than our ancestors did? Probably not. So why should you think about the lives that are spent suffering all around the world, when it makes you feel so powerless? Isn’t it easier to just escape and create your own little world where you convince yourself you have a slight resemblance of control? Unfortunately, though, this type of lifestyle is only a mask of superficiality, and if you wear it for too long, you may become what you pretend to be – wrapped up in only yourself.

So how can you free yourself from the bondage of material obsessions and the pressure of maintaining a certain level of ‘beauty’? It all starts with making a change within you.

“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.”

Leo Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata

Starting with Yourself

In 2006, Jorge Moll at The National Institutes of Health conducted a research that deducted that more oxytocin and dopamine is released when we buy things for others than when we buy things for ourselves. Therefore, it’s a good idea to do some self-reflection and see where you can fit a little bit of altruism in your busy schedule. Instead of searching for instant gratification in buying something materialistic, you could instead keep an eye out for opportunities where you can be of service and use your skills for the benefit of a mission you want to support, or for the sake of someone else. When you put more emphasis on getting fulfilled through pursuing your passions and helping others outwardly, instead of internally, you will be able to experience a longer state of happiness at a much deeper level.

Living a Minimalist Lifestyle

The word ‘minimalism’ has been thrown around a lot in recent years, and it is because people are wanting to get back to their roots and enjoy the simple things in life. In essence, minimalism involves getting rid of excess things and only keeping what matters most. Yes, we mean that both metaphorically and literally!

A 2007 study from Chaplin and John concluded, “there is a strong link between low self-esteem and materialism (usually derived early in childhood), and that low self-esteem causes materialistic tendencies.” Oftentimes, materialistic people are constantly looking for the next best thing, and are continuously unsatisfied with what they already have; therefore they never end up reaching a state of contentment. It actually makes sense, if you think about it; strong, self-confident people rarely look to others for validation. Their power stems from the fact that they actually like themselves -on every level! By helping others, you will definitely boost your self-esteem, and you will start liking yourself even more, to the point where you will even be able to accept your perceived ‘flaws’ and learn to feel fulfillment and joy from the inside.

Reflect on what you have in your life and ask yourself whether it is really leading to more happiness or if it’s slowly dragging you down. You will find that eliminating the burden of all of these extra things in your life that aren’t necessary will actually make you feel a liberating sense of lightness.

Making a Difference through Generosity and Giving Back

This is where you will get the greatest reward – giving back to others and making a difference. Our days are centered around what we want. Removing the focus from yourself and giving back to others, will elicit feelings of gratitude- a process that is an integral part of the journey to happiness, health, and social connections. It was actually proven in a 1999 study led by Doug Oman of the University of California, Berkeley, that older people who volunteered for one or more organizations were 44% less likely to die over a 5-year timeframe. The powerful positive experience of taking care of someone else can improve your health in a much more substantial way than the short-lived psychological benefits of continuous consumerism ever could.

So find where you can be most useful, and start giving as much as you can. Make this the time in your life to be more grateful and give back.

By Danica Ratte