Many of us might feel a bit like George Bailey this year, financially strapped and not sure how we will make it through the tough times. This often leads to desperate thoughts and can affect our entire outlook on life. A reframing of our thoughts away from monetary and economic matters might help remind us as well that there is much good in life and much to be happy about.
While some might view happiness as a luxury, Arthur Brooks in “Gross National Happiness” (Basic Books, New York, New York, 2008) argues that individual happiness is important because happiness affects other people. Happier people tend to be more charitable, “have better marriages, are better parents, act with greater integrity, and are better citizens. Happy people not only work harder than unhappy people, but volunteer more, too – meaning they increase out nation’s prosperity and strengthen communities. In short, happy citizens are better citizens.”
What makes us happy? Giving to others -- through time, money and talent – tend to make us happier. Possibly, Brooks notes, it is due to an increased feeling of control, a change of focus from our problems to helping others with theirs, or the now-proven release of endorphins (natural opiates) that leads to a “Helper’s High.”
George Bailey’s story unfolds in the small town of Bedford Falls. For those of us who live in large cities, it is up to us to help create and participate in communities and associations. These volunteer associations, about half of which are worship-related, provide a way for us to give to others as well as to create social networks that add meaning and context to our everyday lives.
This Christmas season, with so many in need, try focusing on helping others out of the icy waters, and you might not notice that you are a bit cold yourself. If Brooks is right, giving to others will lead to an increase in your happiness, increasing your ability work harder, be a better parent, have a better marriage and become a better citizen.
Most importantly, possibly, like George, you may just conclude that it is still a wonderful life.