It's no secret that doing good makes others happy -- but did you know it can make you happy as well?
According to a study conducted by psychologists at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, people participating in meaningful activities were happier and felt that their lives had more purpose than people who only engaged in pleasure-seeking behaviors. The researchers also found that respondents' happiness came after they did something good for another person.
Giving doesn't just feel good, it's also good for our health, according to two different studies -- one led by Doug Oman at the University of California in Berkeley, and the other by Stephanie Brown of the University of Michigan. These studies showed that elderly couples and individuals who provided help to neighbors and friends or volunteered for at least two organizations had a significantly lower risk of dying over the course of five years.
Try giving these four things to others to embark on your journey to a happier and healthier lifestyle.
1. Your Time
With a busy life, it can be hard to find any time to give away. However, volunteering your time has enormous benefits, including making new friends and connections, learning new skills and even advancing your career.
Dr. Suzanne Richards and her team at the University of Exeter published a paper in 2013 that reviewed 20 years of studies about the link between health and volunteering. According to the paper, volunteering correlates with lower instances of depression and reduces the risk of dying by 22 percent.
Let it be known, however, that volunteering offers the most benefits to people who are truly in it to help other people. Choose an organization that's meaningful to you and put your heart into it.
2. Your Attention
Most of us think we're good listeners, but according to psychologist Paul Donoghue, co-author of Are You Really Listening? Keys to Successful Communication, most people are aware that others don't listen as well as they could. In addition, they're not fully aware that they themselves aren't listening.
One of the simplest and most powerful things you can do for another person is to listen to them. Giving someone your attention shows that you respect them and can also improve the quality of your relationship with that person.
When practicing mindfulness meditation, you focus on what you experience in the moment and let your thoughts and emotions pass through without judgment. Did you know that giving someone your undivided attention helps you also? When done well, active listening strengthens your focus -- which is a major component of good meditation.
3. Your Compassion
The psychological definition of compassion is the ability to understand another person's emotional state. Compassion differs from empathy in that those who experience compassion not only put themselves in another person's shoes, but also want to alleviate that person's suffering.
Neuroscientist Jordan Grafman from the National Institutes of Health conducted a brain-imaging study. The study showed that the brain's pleasure centers are equally active when we give money to charity as when we receive money ourselves.
Giving another person your compassion is a little less concrete than giving something physical, but it's not particularly difficult, and the benefits are huge.
Consider this Buddhist story that compares lunch in heaven to lunch in hell. Both places have long dining tables and endless delicious food -- but the forks are too long for one person to eat with. Those in hell sit with never-ending hunger and frustration because they cannot figure out how to partake in the banquet. However, those in heaven use the long forks to feed each other, allowing everyone to enjoy the delicious food.
Start by remembering that others are on their own path just as you are on yours. They, too, sometimes feel scared and insecure and need support.
4. Your Money
According to an experiment by Michael Norton of Harvard Business School, those who spend money on other people are significantly happier than those who spend the same quantity of money on themselves. Participants even predicted that spending money on themselves would improve their own pleasure -- but they were proven wrong.
Currently, four-fifths of companies that already give charitable donations to international organizations plan to either sustain or increase their budget size. These organizations range drastically in size and in the services they offer, but all of them -- especially nongovernment organizations -- rely heavily on donors to function.
Whether or not you can offer other gifts, donating funds helps make real change happen for disenfranchised people all over the world. It represents time spent, compassion and careful attention to the needs of others.
In what other ways are you happier when you give to others? Share your stories in the comments section below!