Contribution: How to Create Happiness at Will

“The secret of happiness is freedom, the secret of freedom is courage.”

Carrie Jones

Thanks again for reading this week’s offerings! And, If you get value from what’s here, I’d appreciate you sending this to people who might benefit from reading what’s here.

I’ve been researching happiness in articles and podcasts. More specifically, I want to see how much we know about the conditions that must be present for us to experience happiness predictably. I’m devoting two issues that look at happiness from two perspectives:

  • First, are there some things we can do that will predictably make us happy?  In other words, is it possible to create happiness at will?
  • Second, given that situations and circumstances in “physical reality” are unpredictable at best, how can we inoculate ourselves against any disappointments that could occur along the pathway toward events that we think will make us happy? 

Looking at the experience of happiness in these two ways feels like a tall order. I’m nevertheless going to present what I’ve discovered as simply as possible to give us ways to take action to produce happiness at will.

Researchers in the field of happiness define it as the mental or emotional state of well-being resulting from positive emotions, including contentment and joy. 

The first perspective on happiness is about what we can purposefully do that will predictably make us happy. The Prayer of St. Francis offers us a method for creating happiness at will.  I’ve talked with many people who, regardless of their spiritual tradition, found this prayer to be one of the most powerful.  

There are three parts to the prayer.

Part One is about a direct form of contribution. Here are a few lines so you can see it for yourself:

Make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is sadness, joy.

Part Two is about turning my attention away from my needs “to be consoled, loved, and understood” and seeking to satisfy the needs of others instead: to make them happy.

Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love.

Part Three is the secret to happiness. This phrase sums it up:

For it is in giving that we receive.

There’s more to the prayer. I wanted to point to the true nature of the contribution. It has to do with giving for the sake of giving, not asking anything in return. This is what produces happiness. 

When we contribute, we are demonstrating self-efficacy.  Psychologist Albert Bandura first coined this term. He defined self-efficacy as a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in specific situations.  He posited that one’s sense of self-efficacy can significantly affect how one approaches their life.

In contributing, therefore, we receive the awareness that we have the ability or capacity to do something that benefits others. That we are giving something to life that is making a difference.

Recall times in which you knew you had a positive effect on someone else’s life. Perhaps it was the time you helped a friend through an emotional crisis. It could be when you sat down with a relative and talked her through a business project so that she could become more hopeful about her future. Maybe it was the time you became a mentor for a young person who just needed someone to listen to and believe in him.

I remember visiting my great-aunt Anna at the retirement home during her first week there. Now, there was a woman! Ninety-five years old, sharp as a tack, and used to taking care of herself (remember self-efficacy?). She hated being at the home, but she was blind in one eye and too frail to be alone.  She looked dismal.

I sat down beside her and listened to her complain.  This was not her old died-in-the-wool gutsy Socialist self.  And all of a sudden, I said to her, “Stop this, Aunt Anna. You’re beginning to sound like an old woman!”

There was a pause. We both started laughing. She began to perk up immediately, and the gleam returned to her good eye. Then she became serious for a moment.

“Honey,” she said, “I believe you’ve just saved my life.”

That moment will be with me forever. Even thinking about it now makes my heart warm with happiness.

That was more of a “spontaneous” outburst of contribution on my part. We can be more systematic at this. I’ve tried it, and it works!

So, regarding creating happiness at will:

  • Read the highlighted sections of the St. Francis prayer at least once daily for the next ten days. This will prime your brain to look for opportunities to contribute in this particular way.
  • Each day, look for specific ways to sow love, hope, or joy with either an individual or a small group–like your team at work. To sow means to spread, scatter, or distribute.
  • Each day, look for one way to console, love, or understand someone in a purposeful way. You might make this in connection with someone with whom you’re experiencing some mild communication difficulties. Don’t try this when you’ve had significant difficulties with someone. Keep it small and simple. You need to build your “contribution” muscle in this area.

If you were to try the above for one week, I’ll bet that you’re becoming adept at creating your happiness at will. 

You can let me know at marianemeth.com

See you next time!

Wishing you all my best,