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Want to be really happy? Practice ‘Service Before Self’

  • Published
  • By Col. Edward Farley
  • 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron commander
A secret you may not know is this: generous giving will make you a happier person. Studies have shown that people are generally happier when they feel like they are making a difference in the world. Social science research proves this, all of our religious traditions affirm it, and even Oprah Winfrey was able to publicly validate it. She actually changed the format of one of her holiday giveaway shows to prove it. Oprah had audience members give away $1,000 in any way they chose. And not surprisingly, people discovered they got back much more in personal satisfaction than they gave in dollars. In other words, giving is worth every dime.

This phenomenon was named the "giver's high" by researchers at the Harvard Business School. It's the feeling one experiences when helping others. Whether you donate money or volunteer your time ... any way that you get involved in a worthy cause, a cause that you believe in, whether you give a little or a lot...can be a great way to spread joy and create joy for yourself while you're at it.

The Harvard study also states that people experience the same kind of physical endorphin rush from making charitable donations as runners get when they're in the zone. So, in scientific terms, giving a one-time donation is like a jolt of joy, and sponsoring a child or aging person is like a happiness marathon. Here's why: Happiness seems to be fleeting, but not all forms of happiness are gone at a moment's notice. Eudemonic happiness, which has to do with the way we evaluate our own lives and the feeling that we have lived well, is inherently longer-lasting than any state of pleasure, joy or euphoria, such as pleasure-seeking hedonistic happiness. It can also be thought of as human flourishing.

Eudemonic happiness is something you build up over a lifetime. This eudemonic happiness can also keep us in good physical health, according to recent research. A University of California study found that the two different types of happiness were associated with different gene expressions. People with high levels of eudemonic happiness had low inflammatory gene expression and high antiviral gene expression, while those with high levels of pleasure-seeking happiness exhibited higher inflammatory gene expression.

What happiness does in the short term, it also does in the long term. Eudemonic happiness is what can be built and cherished and enhanced and preserved. It leads to a life well lived.

Muhammad Yunus, banker, economist, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and professor of economics, developed the concept of microcredit and microfinance; tiny loans given to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans.

He said, "The global capitalist system today is driven by the notion that people are selfish and are solely motivated by the need for profit maximization. But in practice, people are not happier through maximizing profits, nor are the problems of the world solved by profiteering. Many would argue that the problems of the world are in some cases made more acute by the single minded pursuit of profits. I have always said that human beings are multidimensional beings. Their happiness comes from many sources, and not as our current economic framework assumes; just from making money."

One of the four pillars of Comprehensive Airmen Fitness, the Spiritual, is our ability to sustain a sense of wellbeing and purpose through a set of spiritual beliefs, principles or values. Generosity speaks directly to, and without question supports, this CAF pillar.

Montel Williams agrees. He said, "Successful people are those who understand that the universe will open up to you if you recognize your responsibility to give back." He also says that the most successful people in life were rewarded by the knowledge that they helped others.

I realize that I am probably preaching to the choir. If you are reading this, chances are you have devoted a portion of your life to military, civil, or government contractor service. Even if you are an associated family member, you too have served. So you probably already know that if you want to be truly happy, successful, and in a word, flourish, then simply serve others. Be generous with your time, your money, and yourself. Service before self is more than just a catch phrase; it's a true path to happiness.