Thursday, September 13, 2007

When You Add to Someone Else’s Happiness, You Add to Your Own

I trust most of you remember my Post of July 21, 2007, “Happiness” – A Pervasive Human Goal," in which I concluded with the question, “How central is happiness in your life?” If know me or are familiar with my writings, you know it is central to my life. Fittingly, I herein want to address it again.

Firstly, let’s remember that “Happiness is an emotional or affective state that is characterized by feelings of enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction. A logical subsequent question then might be, “What can a person do to feel enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction?” Let’s look at what some of the more brilliant thinkers have said about “happiness” that may shed some light on this question:

Albert Camus: “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

Albert Schweitzer: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

Benjamin Disraeli: “Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.”

Buddha: “Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others.”

HH the Dalai Lama: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Pertinent to these issues, in my pop-psych book, Living Life, Anyway, toward the end of Epilogue I say the following:

Don’t chase the butterfly of happiness... sit down quietly, turn your thoughts to other things, and become mentally and emotionally involved in what you are doing, and then the butterfly may come and sit upon your shoulder... live your life, happily. (p. 161)

When talking about happiness in my pop-psych book, Mom and Dad’s Pearls of Wisdom… You Gotta Love ’Em. I tell the story of the time my mom said to me:

Happiness is not a station you arrive at;
it is a manner of traveling. (p. 45).

A day or two ago I received an e-mail from a good friend in Sarasota, John, and included in his e-mail was an allegedly true letter (“author unknown”) entitled “Hospital Window.” I typically do not pass along or forward such things, but this one touched me. (Maybe because I spent seven months in a hospital when I was sixteen and have a deep appreciation for a hospital window.) Here is it as I received it:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hospital Window

A great note for all to read. It will take less than a minute to read this and could change your thinking.

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room.

One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room's only window.

The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back.

The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation and on and on.

Every afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.

The man in the other bed began to live for those one-hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.

The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene.

One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by.

Although the other man couldn't hear the band, he could see it. In his mind's eye as the gentle man by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Days and weeks passed.

One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.

As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.

Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed. It faced a blank wall.

The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window.

The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall.

She said, "Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you."


There is tremendous happiness in making others happy, despite our own situations.

Shared grief is half the sorrow, but happiness when shared, is doubled.

If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can't buy.

"Today is a gift, that's why it is called the present."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I tend to believe that among the many truths in this story, the one that is most relevant to my experience is, “When you add to someone else’s happiness, you add to your own.”

Question: Has this been true for you?



Julia Phillips Smith said...

Absolutely and without reservation. That's the only way I know how to live. I have a habit of encouraging people when they are worried/scared/uncertain/bummed out. As you can imagine, it doesn't take long whenever I'm in a new workplace/group/gathering for me to notice a Pied-Piper parade of people who 'just want to know what I think.' They already know what I think. They know I'm going to say 'You can do it!'

Sometimes I wonder whether I should do that. I always say 'it'll be alright' even though I have no way of knowing whether it will actually get worse. But I exude confidence when I say it, and I have realized that if I pump up their inner belief in themselves, I'm helping them rewrite the outcome.

I was very glad to read this story. I'm definitely the blind patient spinning stories. This helps me feel better about my strange compulsion to repeat 'it'll be okay' or 'you'll be fine' or 'we'll make it' or 'it'll work out'...

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Julia,
As always, good to see you.
Thanks for sharing your wonderful illustration of the main point of my Post. I bet there are many people who turned the corner as a result of your encouragement -- and albeit "not with much real probability for success" in many cases, I would add that a major gift you give people is: You care enough to listen to them in the first place!
Keep doing what you're doing (and I say that nit just for your benefit),

Misa said...

I completely agree that so much of a person's happiness is tied into how they contribute to another's life/happiness. I find this most evident with my children. They are so honest and their happiness shines on their faces. It's hard not to find my own pleasure when I contribute to that. =)

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Misa,
Thank you for your excellent example of the postulate -- yes indeed: What could make a parent more happy than to contribute to his or her children's happiness!
And how many times have you watched one of yours and seen yourself?!
Misa - be safe, be well and be happy,