You can't buy happiness. Objects--like all of the things you've purchased this weekend--won't make you a happier person. And even the success and wealth you desire won't make you happier than you are right now.
Similar results have been found in individuals who achieve things that we often define as success, like a promotion or some other great achievement. Quite simply, reaching a major milestone isn't suddenly going to make you happy if you're unhappy now.
So where do you go to find true happiness? The answer lies in a trait that is often overlooked in our consumer-driven world: compassion.
Compassion should drive everything you do if you want greater life satisfaction. It should influence how you interact with others, and how you treat yourself. While developing this trait may require a fair amount of effort, the benefits of compassion are well worth it.
Here are five ways that compassion can make a lasting difference in your life--and in the lives of those around you:
1. Service stimulates the brain's pleasure pathways and makes you feel good.
The most easily-recognizable form of compassion is service, and there is ample evidence highlighting how volunteering leads to happiness. Brain-imaging research has revealed that compassionate acts like giving money to charity activate the brain's pleasure centers in the same way as eating a sugary dessert.
Even more importantly, compassion helps us become less focused on ourselves and more focused on trying to help others. This is especially valuable when feeling stressed out or suffering from anxiety.
By focusing your attention on someone else's problems, you become less preoccupied with your own worries. Your brain becomes energized as you try to be part of someone else's solution, which allows you to tackle your own problems with renewed vigor.
2. Helping others is contagious (and improves other people's lives).
When someone observes you performing a compassionate act, they become more likely to become motivated to help others as well.
Many businesses and charitable organizations have taken steps to tap into this community-driven power. One example of this is Occasion Station, a personal, gift-shopping platform, which created a "Smart Gifting" program that allows its premium members to send gifts to charitable organizations like the Miracle Foundation or Cake4Kids. This setup allows users to share these gift lists with friends and family to encourage additional charitable giving.
As Occasion Station's founder and CEO Felix Odigie explains, "So many people want to give, but they don't know where to start and want to know who they're gifting to. By providing a platform that spreads the word about charitable giving, it's been amazing to see how much people are willing to contribute once they become aware of the opportunities that are out there."
3. Compassion makes you a better, happier person.
Focusing on money and success can make it easy to criticize yourself when you don't live up to preconceived standards or fail to accomplish a particular goal. This can be detrimental to your self-esteem and overall well-being.
Rather than criticizing yourself for your shortcomings and failures, Kristin Neff recommends that you treat yourself "in the same way you would treat a treasured friend."
Simple habits such as using soothing self-talk when you are upset, quieting your inner critic, or even writing an affirming letter can increase happiness and reduce symptoms of depression.
4. Compassion builds stronger social connections.
Volunteering provides new opportunities for social interaction, which has been found to provide a wide range of physical and mental health benefits.
Working together to serve others strengthens relationships, allowing you to form deeper connections that can provide much-needed emotional support during hard times. This in turn combats social isolation and loneliness, which can cause serious harm to your mental and emotional health.
5. Compassion improves your physical health, too.
Compassionate behavior has a significant impact on your emotional well-being, but volunteers often experience physical health benefits as well. Many volunteer opportunities help us get moving much more than when we're sitting at our desks from 9 to 5.
A brief from the Corporation for National and Community Service reports that those who volunteer for 100 hours per year are 33% less likely "to report bad health" in comparison to those who don't volunteer, with benefits included reduced risk of hypertension, mortality and more.
Other research has even found volunteering to lower the risk of dementia! With improved physical health, it's easier to stay happy and have the energy you need for everyday activities.
While money and success can bring a temporary boost to your spirits, the only way to achieve lasting happiness is to develop an attitude of gratitude focused on compassion for yourself and others.