Balancing Our Happiness with the Happiness of Others

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I just want to be happy. Amid all of the different things going on in my life, I like to think that at the end of the day, everything will somehow contribute to my happiness. I don’t think that I’m alone in having this mindset, and that may be the problem.

When everybody wants to be happy, and assuming that we don’t want others to be unhappy, how can we guarantee that our own happiness doesn’t come at the expense of others’ happiness? In other words, how can we balance our happiness with the happiness of others?

These questions arise when we think of the world and all of its humanitarian crises involving people less fortunate than we are. As an avid advocate for refugees, I often think about how hard it must be for them to be happy when confronted with so much strife. They are living in unstable and unpredictable conditions, and it’s difficult to imagine that they can stay positive.

Should our personal problems take a back seat because there are other people dealing with more serious issues? Should we feel guilty if we don’t do something to help, even if helping might mean putting our own problems on hold and risking being unhappy?

I wonder about these kinds of things. When refugees are surviving day-to-day in squalid and claustrophobic camps, is it right for me to stress about an upcoming math test? Does it really matter that I’m worried about something going on with my friends when another madman has gunned down innocent civilians somewhere in the world?

The obvious answer to all of this is, of course, that our problems do matter. We’re only human, and to be able to help others, we need to first be able to help ourselves and make sure we’re happy.

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So, we should go study hard for that math test, but keep in mind that there are millions of people around the world who don’t even get to take a math class. We shouldn’t feel guilty about it, just recognize it. We should sort out friendship and other issues that are bothering us, but be appreciative of what we already have, like a place to live, a place to learn, and someone to feed us.

Something else to keep in mind is that our happiness and others’ happiness are not mutually exclusive. Helping others be happy contributes to our happiness. The gift of giving, sort of.

Every time I watched those Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Christmas specials as a young boy and the overarching theme was the “gift of giving,” I thought that giving things was fine, but it always felt better to receive.

Now, after countless Christmases of receiving things that I sometimes don’t use, I find it much more rewarding to look for something that I know someone else will like and see their joy when I give it to them.

The gift—or reward—of giving is happiness, because in giving to others, we achieve a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. Often, to be happy with our lives, we have to receive the gift of giving. Basically, one key to being happier is seeing others around us be happy.

What are some ways to do this? We can serve soup to homeless people through a local charity, for example. When we know that they have something to eat because of what we did, we might feel sad because they don’t have much, but happy because we were able to give them at least a little more.

We should simply be kind, wherever we are and whoever we’re with. Kindness goes a long way, and has a strong correlation with fulfillment and happiness. If others around us receive kindness from us and feel happy, we’ll feel happy, which will in turn make those around us happy—a truly positive feedback loop.

The bottom line is, we should do what we can to be happy with who we are and what we are doing. If anything we do makes others happy, that’s even better. This may all be more easily written about than accomplished, but it’s certainly not as hard as we might think to be happy while contributing to the happiness of others.