"I remember one of my psychotherapy teachers telling me that the fields in which people are happiest are those where they can directly help others — fire fighter, psychologist, minister, physician, social worker. I, too, had chosen to stop doing laboratory research to devote more time to working in clinics and to the charityMédecins Sans Frontières. I wanted my day-to-day contact to be with human beings rather than machines at the research centre.
Matthieu Ricard, a monk and Buddhist philosopher, likes to remind his readers that the only reliable source of wellbeing is not what we do for our own pleasure, but what we do to make those around us happy. After all, each and every one of us has the capacity to reach out to others, even if our actual motivation may be selfish (because we want to feel good about ourselves).
At Vancouver University in Canada, researcher Elizabeth Dunn gave a small sum of money to two groups of students. The first group was told to spend it on themselves (paying bills or buying themselves something), and the second group was told to use it for buying a nice gift for someone or making a donation to a charitable organisation.When they came back at the end of their day out, those who’d bought themselves clothes or an electronic gadget had experienced a moment of pleasure but had gained no lasting satisfaction. The other group, however, having used their money to make someone happy, came back beaming with pleasure.
Father Ceyrac, a French Jesuit missionary, once wrote, ‘All that is not given is lost’. I’m not sure I’d go that far. But what I do know is that the next time we’re feeling a bit down, we’d be better off thinking of someone close to us whom we could help, rather than going shopping or tucking in to a tub of ice-cream. If we all adopted this model of happiness through altruism, it could only brighten the state of the planet, crisis or no crisis."