Saturday, June 09, 2007

So, Just How Happy Are You?

Only you know the answer to that question for yourself but the world happiness survey once again tells us that when it comes to being happy, money and power matter but not all that much. Indeed, all six of the countries which boast the highest percentage of people describing themselves "very happy" are Third World, to include Nigeria, Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, and Vietnam. High income First World countries don't fare near as well as most would imagine, with the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, at 13th, 14th and 15th, respectively.

How can it be? Most scientists who study this seeming anomaly have concluded that getting what you want isn't nearly as predictive of happiness as wanting what you have -- regardless whether whether what you have is a little or a lot. In other words, happiness is more a decision than a situation.

The reward of the happy doesn't stop with their smiles. Studies show that people who are compassionate toward others and illustrate that compassion through daily volunteer efforts are 10 times more likely to report themselves to be in good health than those who strive and stress for traditional success. And their observation about their health is correct -- it seems the compassionate are more relaxed, with their metabolisms, heart rates, blood pressure, and breathing slower which leads not only to healthier lives but longer ones, too. One recent study has shown that people to volunteer on behalf of others are 63% more likely to live longer lives than those who focus on making themselves happy.

Where to begin the practice of compassion? Volunteer work is a great place to start and we have found that one of the best ways to improve employee morale is for each location of a company to take on a cause and encourage employees to participate.

On a more personal level, we can exercise compassion each day just as we exercise our muscles in the gym. In his book, Resurfacing: Techniques for Exploring Consciousness, Harry Palmer suggests that we can practice altruism, compassion, and understanding no matter where we are -- airports, coffee shops, grocery stores, even at work with co-workers.

Before judging another, look at the person upon whom you are focused and repeat to yourself:

"Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life."
"Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life."
"Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair."
"Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfill his/her needs."
"Just like me, this person is learning about life."

It is more difficult to convict others if we go through this five-step process before making a conclusion on the "good" and the "bad" of another if only because the other becomes less someone "out there" and much more like that someone "in here."