Wisdom//

The #1 Strategy (and 3 Weekly Habits) to Increase Your Happiness

Have you ever asked yourself how you could be happier?

It’s one of life’s greatest questions. Unfortunately, many people (including me earlier in my life) look for the answer in the wrong places. Many people think they will be happier if they get something that they currently do not have. This leads them to chase more money and other material possessions. In reality, once your basic needs have been met, you are more likely to increase your happiness by asking yourself what else you can give (not get).

The #1 strategy to increase your happiness is to spend less time thinking about how you can make yourself happy and spend more time thinking about how you can make other people happy.

There is a direct correlation between your contribution to others and your own happiness. In this article, you’ll learn 3 weekly habits that will make you happier- by helping other people be happier.

Habit #1: Call or visit an elderly person each week.

Imagine that you are in your eighties or nineties. Your spouse passed away years ago, and you live by yourself in a modest one-bedroom apartment. You are not very mobile anymore, so you do not leave your apartment on most days. As a result, there are many days when you never see another person. On some days, you do not even talk to another person. Most of your time is spent indoors, in solitude, tidying up your apartment, watching TV, reading, filling out crossword puzzles, and finding other ways to pass the time.

Sounds very lonely, doesn’t it? If this was you, how desperately would you appreciate someone calling or visiting you, even if just for 15 minutes?

My grandfather passed away in 2007, leaving my Grandma (85 years old at that time) as a widow and living alone. While I had always been close to my Grandma, we typically only spoke on holidays or special occasions at that point of our lives.

Soon after my grandfather’s passing, I decided to call her one Sunday afternoon- just to say hello and see how she was doing. I figured this small gesture would bring some happiness to her day, and I was right. She was very excited to hear from me. However, I had no idea how this simple action would impact me. It brought me tremendous joy to know that I had brightened her day.

That was over 10 years ago, and I’ve called her (or visited her when I’m in town) every single Sunday since then. It’s become a weekly ritual that we both look forward to.

Unlike many elderly people, my Grandma (now 96 years old and still doing well) actually has a pretty active social life. My parents and aunt and uncle call and visit her often (they all live within a few miles of each other in Long Island- where I grew up). My grandma also attends weekly events at a local senior center.

Chances are that you know an elderly person (maybe your own grandparent or parent) who is not so fortunate and who would love more social interaction. If you want to be happier, try calling (or visiting) an elderly person every weekend. It will make a big difference in their happiness, and it will make you much happier too.

Me and my Grandma after a lunch date

Habit #2: Volunteer in the trenches each week.

While there’s value in joining a non-profit Board of Directors, or providing administrative or fundraising support to a local charity, nothing compares with the satisfaction that you receive from working directly with and building relationships with people who are less fortunate.

Since 2011, I have volunteered with Back on My Feet, a non-profit organization that partners with homeless shelters to help homeless people improve their lives physically and emotionally. The organization uses running and community to motivate and support people from homelessness to independence.

One morning each week, I get up at 5:00 a.m. and drive 6 miles to a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C. where I meet with other volunteers and with a group of men staying at the shelter. We say a quick prayer, warm-up, and head out for a 20-30 minute group run/walk. (The members go at different paces, and some of them walk.) Then, we stretch and say another quick prayer before going our separate ways for the day.

Volunteering with this organization is one of the highlights of my week. I’m always inspired by the amazing people associated with the organization- both the men who are trying to rehabilitate their lives and my fellow volunteers who also get up early to support them. Volunteering in the trenches with people who are less fortunate helps you develop greater compassion, improves your overall perspective, and significantly improves your overall happiness.


me (middle of back row, wearing black hat) with a group of members and volunteers for Back on My Feet (BOMF)

Habit #3: Share your expertise each week.

No matter what your background is and no matter where you are in your life right now, there is someone (probably many people) who would love to learn how you got to where you are, how you developed a specific skill, or how you overcame a personal or professional challenge.

What are your greatest skills? What personal or professional challenges have you overcome? What expertise do you have that other people would like to learn?

In 2009, I decided to start sharing my expertise on how to feel and perform your best. Since then, my personal mission has been to help other people become the strongest, healthiest, and highest-performing person they can be. I’ve pursued this mission by writing books and articles, by delivering speeches, and by teaching group exercise classes in my free time.

You could share your knowledge by writing a weekly article on your topic of expertise, by mentoring someone individually, or by leading a class or discussion group of your own. Teaching, coaching, or mentoring others is one of the greatest gifts that you can give and one of the best ways to bring more happiness into your own life.

me (on the far right) with a group of people who attend my weekly track workouts

Summary

We all want to be happier. It’s one of the key pursuits in life. However, many people make the mistake of spending too much time and energy chasing things that will never truly bring them real happiness. In reality, the #1 strategy to increase your happiness is to spend less time thinking about how you can make yourself happy, and spend more time thinking about how you can make other people happy. Ask yourself what else you can give, not what else you can get. This article highlighted 3 specific weekly habits to help you do just that:

  1. Call or visit an elderly person each week
  2. Volunteer in the trenches each week
  3. Share your expertise each week

P.S. Have you taken the free habits assessment at StrongerHabits.com?

This assessment measures your current habits in four key areas that impact your energy, your stress, and your performance. You can click here to take the assessment for free. It takes less than 3 minutes, and you get your results immediately. 

About the author: Pete Leibman is the creator of StrongerHabits.com, the founder of Work Stronger Consulting, and the bestselling author of Work Stronger; Habits for More Energy, Less Stress, and Higher Performance at Work. His work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and CNNMoney.com.

author Pete Leibman at work (left) and competing in a fitness challenge (right)
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