The British Medical Journal reports that connecting with happy people improves one’s happiness. We know from neuroscience that we all possess mirror neurons that pick up signals from those around us. So the mantra “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” certainly makes sense. Except every time I check the news and see that people continue to lose their homes and jobs I find it hard to do a happiness tap dance. I wonder if that means folks who know me should stay far away. I do like to be happy. I like to laugh and have fun. Yet, when it is tough in the world I, like so many women I know empathize and sympathize.
So I spent some time thinking about what it means to be happy and I realized that it is often directly related to conditions “out there.” If the market is up, more people seem happy, if the new car is a good deal, it brings a smile, if a few pounds are shed, glee. Yet, what happens if the economy is sour and business is dismal?
Most folks I connect with lately are both physically and emotionally distressed. What can we do? Some have the ability to “fake it till you make it”. Many of the motivational books talk about this as the best way to trick the subconscious. Others just admit to being downright scared and depressed and look for some solace in the medicine cabinet.
Maybe there is another alternative and just maybe this is the best and right time to think deeper than “happiness.” Perhaps our focus on happiness has led us to be just a bit too self-centered. Perhaps the focus can be altruism, a word we don’t use all that much. It’s action-oriented. You have to DO something. Like, if you have a sandwich, give half to a homeless person. Stop someone on the street and tell them you like their hair cut, or scarf, or glasses. We need to take a few minutes and just say “hi!” Send a card or email and ask someone how you can help.
A word of caution; there is a vast difference between helping and rescuing. As women, this has been one of the traps most of us need to watch. We have a long history of patterned programming to be rescuers. I am suggesting that when we give of ourselves we also must monitor our “howmuchness”. Balance is the key.
In the 1940’s a Harvard sociologist, Pitrim Sorokin hypothesized that we are hard wired for altruism and this may just be one of the most important parts of brain research for us to understand at this very difficult time in our evolving culture.