• Kimberly

HAPPINESS 2 OF 5: how you treat others matters more than how they treat you

HAPPINESS 2 of 5: It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking "My life would be so much better if other people were always nice to me!". But that is a form of blame--it's a way of saying my personal happiness is other people's responsibility.

My book describes a woman I call Helga, who was extraordinarily offensive and rude to the staff at her nursing home. They, in return, were unfailingly kind and patient with her. But she just kept on being horrible, and had nothing good to say about the facility after she left even though they had literally saved her life.

Her unhappiness was of her own making, because she would not be satisfied with anything anyone did for her.

Which leads me to think, how would I be if everyone really were always kind and compassionate to me? Would it actually make me feel happier, or would I merely take it as "about time" and "what I'm entitled to"? Would I even notice, or like Helga, would I always be wanting more?

The point is, I always have a choice about how I will respond to others. They can't make me happy with kindness, because whether I'm happy or not comes from my own brain and my own reaction.

And the human brain is made happiest by doing things for others.

This study showed that people do get a little bump of happiness when they treat themselves. Self-care helps, a little bit.

But people who spent the same amount of money to do something nice for someone else, got a bigger bump of happiness. And they felt better for longer.

Because their own brains couldn't get in the way of interpreting the experience--was it the best kind of self-care?, what's that funny rumbling in my belly and does it mean I'm still unhappy?, should I have chosen a different ice cream?, but still I have to go back to my boring job. etc.

When we do something nice for others, that's a very simple event. I did something kind. I contributed. I made a small difference. The brain doesn't spin that, it just takes it as good.

And with all the questions and uncertainties and doubts and insecurities that haunt our brains, doing something kind stands out in sharp relief as a clear and unambiguous positive.

That is what our brains long for, and that we can only provide by turning our attention outward. How we treat others matters more for our happiness than how they treat us.

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