This week, to celebrate Chinese New Year (Year of the Fire Monkey), my contribution to Silver Threading’s Writer’s Quote Wednesday and Ronovan Writes‘ BeWoW (Be Writing on Wednesday) is an old Chinese proverb.
This one came to my attention while I was researching for my second novel, Knitting Can Walk!
If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a month, get married.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody else.
When I have paused to think about what gives me the greatest pleasure in my life, it comes down to those moments when I know that something that I have done or said has given some pleasure to somebody else. I have occasionally discussed this with friends and discovered that many of them feel the same. My conclusion therefore, is that giving pleasure is very often a pleasurable experience in itself. The proverb is a perfect expression of that conclusion, but its wisdom takes it further.
The first two lines describe momentary pleasures. Obviously, neither a short nap nor a fishing trip will make you happy forever. Getting married and inheriting a fortune are events which completely change the circumstances of anyone’s life. But one becomes used to living that different life, either with a partner or with a greater amount of money. The new level of happiness or the new level of wealth become life’s norm. Then one wants more. That’s part of human nature.
How often have you thought that you’d be a lot happier when you start that new job, or when you find yourself a new girlfriend or boyfriend, or when your first baby arrives into the world? Those things make you very happy for a while, but then they become part of your day-to-day life and you start to take them for granted.
When you start looking for activities that make your happiness dial move into the red zone, the proverb proves to be correct. Practicing acts of kindness significantly increases your happiness level. Even small acts of kindness such as complimenting somebody on their appearance, helping an old or infirm person across the road, offering to be the designated [sober] driver on a group night out, or helping a lay person to sort out a computer problem, can pay you back in happiness tokens. It gives you a wonderful, pleasurable feeling.
Everyone has different ideas of what might qualify as an act of kindness, but you can soon find your own level. Sometimes you’ll surprise yourself with a spontaneous opportunity. I once did that and now I actively look for a repeat of the same circumstances because I love the huge boost that it gives to me. I don’t always have the time or the spare cash to do this, and that saddens me, but I do it when I can.
My favourite is to surprise a homeless person by bringing them a meal or a hot drink from a nearby cafe. I can tell you that that small gift is not always welcomed, but it is generally well received and I believe that it gives more benefit than a handful of small change.
As I said, we can all identify our own definitions of acts of kindness. These may be subjective and are dependent on our own personal attributes. Once we’ve found one or two, the next step is to practice them more and to feel the benefits.
Why do we feel happy when we make somebody else feel happy?
I have two answers to that question.
- It makes me feel good about myself. I feel that I am quite a caring, generous person, and that definitely makes me feel better about myself than I would if I did not set out to help others.
- By helping others, I often make new friends. Sometimes that friendship is temporary and short term, but I have many long term friends. People around me might appreciate what I have done and, occasionally, they will reciprocate by being kind to me when I find myself in times of trouble. As I’ve said many times before, “Everyone appreciates being appreciated.”
* Photo of The Pitons was taken by the Lance Greenfield in November 2013