In “The Art of Happiness,” the Dalai Lama explains his belief that the purpose of life is to find happiness. But wouldn’t this make us all selfish? Isn’t finding happiness all about oneself? To illustrate the contrary, Howard C. Cutler cites a survey in which unhappy people are actually more self-centered, less loving and less forgiving than happy people. More so, several experiments have exemplified the idea that happy people are more willing to help others and spread positive feelings. For example, in an experiment that Cutler describes, half of the subjects were set up to find money lying on the ground in a phone booth while the other half were not. When an experimenter walking by posing as a stranger “mistakenly” dropped a stack of papers, the participants who had found the money were more likely to help this “stranger,” compared to those who had not.
So how does someone go about increasing his or her happiness? On the surface, according to the Dalai Lama, it’s about purposely cultivating positive states like kindness and compassion. While I was studying abroad last year, my positive psychology class took a trip to London to study and explore the topic for a week. For one of our assignments, our professor split us into groups and gave each group 10 pounds. The assignment was simple: Do a random act of kindness in the city. My group and I brainstormed for a while — we considered buying food and a blanket for a homeless person or giving out balloons to those walking by. We ultimately decided to go to a frozen yogurt shop and pay for the next person to walk into the store, without them knowing.
It was debatable who was the happiest — my group, the people receiving the free frozen yogurt, or the employees helping us plan the surprise. With this assignment, I definitely experienced firsthand how kindness helps increase happiness and how contagious it is. The class got so much enjoyment from this activity.