Nesta was a woman who set her own rules for what created and defined a life well lived. Some of her choices were counter intuitive. For example, her eating habits were baffling to me. As long as I knew her cake, cookies and candy were primary food groups. On the other hand, I have actively embraced some of her life ideology. Two of her best guidelines came in a statement she made during a conversation about achieving happiness.
“When you put your head on the pillow at the end of the day, consider it a good day if you didn’t hurt anyone and you learned something new,” she told me. I realized my grandmother had been living for many decades by the simple rule that compassion and personal growth provide the path to happiness. In the years since I first heard her advice I’ve experimented with it in my own life and I’ve come to appreciate its effectiveness.
As a society we are bombarded with messages that happiness can be found in the things we buy, the status we achieve, our accomplishments, relationships and bank accounts. Each time we find ourselves pursuing the latest update or release, something bigger or someone different we are reconfirming that our consumption habits don’t actually bring us the happiness we’re after.
We realize, but don’t necessarily want to accept, that bringing more into our lives creates much less satisfaction than giving out. Here are a few reasons that having, and acting on, compassion is ultimately in our own best interest.
COMPASSION CHANGES OUR POV
When we are focused on ourselves we tend to focus on negativity. Stress, anxiety and sadness are self-focused emotions that cause us to emphasis anything that’s going wrong. When we give our time, money or energy to someone else, our attention shifts from our own problems and we experience a shift in our perspective.
COMPASSION INCREASES OUR SENSE OF WELL-BEING
Studies have shown that when we connect to other people our mental and physical health improves. This sense of connection can have such a positive impact that is will shorten the amount of time it takes us to recover from an illness. When we help others we achieve that same sense of connection and satisfaction that leads to improved health and well-being.
COMPASSION MAKES YOU MORE ATTRACTIVE
If you’ve ever found someone to be initially attractive and then, the more you saw them in action, the less attractive they became – you’ve experienced this phenomenon. We want to be around people we perceive as compassionate, kind, and giving so we seek these qualities in our significant relationships. We also translate these positive personality qualities into physical attractiveness.
I enjoy a rush of adrenaline when I’m figuring out some new information, so the second half of Nesta’s advice for finding lasting happiness has always made sense to me. However, in the hustle of busy, demanding days it can be easily neglected. The reason this concept works is not necessarily because education statistically results in higher income and more satisfying jobs. There are other important factors involved.
LEARNING DRIVES CREATIVITY
Curiosity, learning and creativity are all linked together. Learning something new in one area of our lives can spark new ideas in another. Being fully engaged in a new challenge or creative endeavor can lead to the feeling that time stands still. In this type of situation, even if we become tired, we will finish feeling energized and happy.
OLD DOGS NEED NEW TRICKS
For optimum health as we age our mind muscle needs to regularly be flexed. Our brains thrive when we find new things for them to do. Improved health and mental sharpness naturally enhance our long term happiness, but there’s also an interesting cycle to consider. The more we learn the more confident and resilient we feel resulting in a greater willingness to be vulnerable and open to new ideas which in turn enables us to learn more easily.
CHOOSE TO BE HAPPY AND TAKE STEPS TO ENSURE IT
My grandmother didn’t sit down in front of a blank computer screen and create a list of happiness habits. She learned through her life’s experience that when compassion and continuous learning are practiced regularly and with consistency they bring the desired happiness quotient. The payoff of these practices is both personal and cultural. Happier people enjoy better health and longevity.
Anxiety and depression are correlated to higher rates of disease and shorter lifespans. As we individually create more happiness in our lives, we also contribute to a less self-centered world for everyone around us. An added bonus is that we earn the right to offer this advice to our grandchildren when, hopefully, someday they ask.