- Gratitude and selflessness are two fundamental ingredients for a happy life.
- Selflessness brings you durable, long-term happiness, and a single selfless act increases your sense of connectedness and decreases feelings of depression, loneliness, and anxiety.
- Gratitude does the same. Studies show that two weeks of a simple gratitude practice creates long-term changes in positivity and happiness. It lights up positivity pathways in your brain and gradually strengthens them over time, rewiring your thoughts for optimism.
- Try the 21-day happiness challenge at the end of this article to incorporate generosity and gratitude into your life. You might find you become happier and more emotionally resilient.
Tony Robbins doesn’t talk about his generosity much. It’s surprising, because if anyone has reason to brag, it’s Robbins: the entrepreneur and life coach has made an enormous global impact with his non-profit organization, which focuses on feeding the hungry and empowering at-risk youth, prisoners, and the homeless.
Robbins’ tremendous charity had humble beginnings; he was generous well before he became wealthy. In a recent Bulletproof Radio [iTunes] podcast episode, he talks about how he began giving away his money when he was broke.
“I was struggling in my business,” he explains. “I had 21 bucks to my name.” Robbins went to an all-you-can-eat buffet to stretch his last few dollars. While he was eating, he saw a mother and son come in. The son was polite — holding the door, pulling out the chair for his mom — and it touched Robbins. He paid his bill, took his last $15, and gave them to the kid, so the child could buy his mom’s lunch. The emotional result left an impression on Robbins.
“I skipped home, and I had no fear, no worry,” Robbins said. “It was the first time in my life where I was beyond scarcity. I remember I went home, I had no plan to figure out what to do the next day to eat, and I went to bed happy as a clam.”
In that moment, Robbins unlocked one of the fundamental ingredients for happiness, and a powerful biohack: selflessness.
This isn’t speculation; selflessness and its close cousin, gratitude, both change your brain on a biological level. The two are extraordinary ways to build a happier life, and to lift up those around you.
RELATED: Use Gratitude to Rewire Your Brain
Your brain on generosity: how selflessness creates lasting happiness
Positive psychologists are basically happiness researchers. They look for the underlying causes of happiness — not just brief pleasure that fades as quickly as it appears, but durable, authentic happiness that persists throughout life.
One of the biggest discoveries positive psychologists have made involves selfishness versus selflessness.
- Selfish acts bring you happiness — in the short-term. But selfish happiness fades quickly, and in turn drives more selfish behavior.
- Selfless acts, on the other hand, bring lasting happiness. A single selfless act weakens your sense of separation with the world around you. It creates a mental shift toward increased connectednessand eases feelings of loneliness and anxiety. And as with selfish behavior, selfless behavior creates a positive feedback loop: selflessness drives you to be more selfless, which in turn makes you — and the people around you — happier.
Oh, and by the way: selflessness is also sexy. It was rated one of the most desirable qualities in a long-term sexual partner.
Gratitude builds happiness, too
Gratitude is another fundamental part of lasting happiness. Study after study has found that gratitude rewires your brain for positivity. Two weeks of simple gratitude exercises — sharing daily wins with friends and family or writing down things for which you feel grateful — will make you happier, more emotionally open, more optimistic, more productive, and even more creative. That’s a lot of benefit for 10 minutes of your day.
The benefits last, too: a review of positive psychology interventions found that daily gratitude causes a long-term shift in your happiness and a long-term decrease in symptoms of depression.
What you put in your body determines what you get out of it. That’s true for food and exercise, and it’s also true for your thoughts. Every time you focus on gratitude, you’re lighting up brain pathways associated with positivity and happiness. After a while, seeing the bright side of things becomes second nature.
Choose one of these 11 gratitude practices and try it today. Forcing yourself to be grateful may feel awkward at first, but as you strengthen those positive brain pathways, it will become easier and easier.
The Bulletproof 21-day happiness challenge
Selflessness and gratitude are staples of lasting happiness, and they both make powerful daily habits. With that in mind, here’s a 21-day challenge for you.
For the next month:
- Do something selfless every day.
- List 5 things you’re grateful for every night before bed.
These don’t have to be big. They can be as simple as buying coffee for the stranger in line behind you, or expressing gratitude that you have a roof over your head. What’s important is consistency. Make it a habit to help those around you and appreciate the little things in your life. Pay attention to how you feel throughout the month. By day 21, you may find you become a happier, more emotionally resilient person.