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The Science behind Acts of Giving

The Science behind Acts of Giving

Recently, a phenomenon called Acts of Giving has been popping up all over the media. It’s even more noticeable over the festive season when we are urged to give more to others. However, being kind and giving to others has a direct impact on our own happiness levels and not just for the person we are giving to. In fact, if done well, the giver has many benefits that can last a couple of days. It’s a virtuous circle where giving to others raises our happiness level and happier people help others more. Evidence shows that givers are more satisfied with life, feel more competent, have a greater sense of meaning and usually a more positive mood.

What does it mean to give to others?

It means giving without expecting anything in return. It’s an act that requires thought and attention and we give because we care. The Act of Giving does not need to be money-based, but can be something as simple as being kind to someone, letting someone in front of the queue if they’re in a rush, listening to them, cutting colleagues slack when they are going through a hard time, giving a compliment, visiting a lonely or sick person, or carrying someone’s bag. You’re getting the gist.

You may be wondering… if Acts of Giving provide such mega-benefits to the giver, then can that not be regarded as being selfish or even altruistic? Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton Business School, identified two types of giving; selfless-givers and other-ish givers. The selfless-giver has a high interest in other people’s well-being and little interest in deriving their own benefit. The other-ish giver scores high on both counts; the other person and themselves. They have found a healthy balance of accepting kindness and giving it to others.

That being said, not all giving raises our happiness. If it is expected and not done out of our own free will or we feel socially obliged, then it is apparent that we give reluctantly and even with a degree of resentment. This will definitely not raise our happiness, but rather deplete it.

Three factors must be present for you to get an ultra-happiness boost:

  1. Connect – the act must increase your connection with the person; it must also be an act that you personally value
  2. Control – it must be done voluntarily and out of your own free will
  3. Impact – the act of giving should make an impactful and meaningful difference to the other person

You might be thinking that this giving stuff is all well and good, but you just don’t have the time. The Act of Giving can be a super-quick five-minute activity and doesn’t have to be long-winded.

Try these five-minute Acts of Giving

  • Return someone’s call
  • Connect them to someone who can assist them
  • Make a person smile
  • Pay for a stranger’s coffee or parking ticket
  • Assist a person who is lost
  • Offer change to someone who is struggling to find the right amount
  • Let another car in if they find themselves in the wrong lane
  • Push an elderly person’s grocery trolley
  • Say thank you when being served
  • Stop what you are doing and listen attentively to someone

Giving to others increases our psychological and physical well-being. It makes us happier and allows us to ask for help when we need it. Pay it forward!



Aknin, L., Dunn, E., & Norton, M. (2011). Happiness Runs in a Circular Motion: Evidence for positive feedback loop between pro-social spending and happiness Studies. 13(2), 347-355.

King, V. (2016). 10 Keys to Happier Living. London: Headline Publishing Group.

Is there a dark side to happiness? Part 2

Is there a dark side to happiness? Part 2

Last month we discussed the first question regarding whether there is a dark side to happiness. We specifically spoke about whether there is a wrong quantity of happiness. The secret lies in moderation – everything in a balanced quantity. Excessive extreme happiness swings are unhealthy for us and may even come at a cost.

This week we continue with questions 2 to 4 on the dark side of happiness.

Question 2: Is there an inappropriate time for happiness?

Our emotions are phenomenal as they prepare us to attain goals and expand our thinking and equally guard us from dangerous situations. Emotions are our internal guiding compass and if we tune into them we can obtain important guidance about situations and people. However, we try to regulate our emotions through consciously supressing unwanted feelings. We must understand the pros and cons every emotional state brings. For example, experiencing positive emotions makes us feel safe and we might be less persuasive in negotiations. Likewise, it’s almost impossible to be fair, empathetic and open-minded towards others when in an angry state.

Happiness is like humour, a delicate balance for when it’s appropriate to be happy and when not. Happiness is also in the eye of the beholder.

Question 3: Is there an incorrect way to develop happiness?

This question is quite intriguing. You will have seen many social media posts and articles that urge us to develop our level of happiness because it leads to positivity and fulfilment. We are constantly being encouraged to work on and increase our happiness level. But should we actively be striving for this? I get a sense that we are commoditising happiness as if it is a competency that with practice and continual usage we will improve on. If we do precisely that, then we are indeed going about it the wrong way. The reason is that we are treating happiness as a goal that needs to be attained. We set standards and benchmarks that determine how happy we are. We put more and more in and the opposite happens; we become more and more disappointed and unhappier. Research findings show that an active pursuit to attain happiness has resulted in greater social disconnect and feelings of loneliness. Again, the answer to this conundrum lies in our emotions. When we pursue happiness, we try to supress or avoid negative emotions which fuels more unhappiness. Our aim is to bring in more awareness, mindfulness and acceptance to our emotions. Going inward and being observers of our emotional, physical and cognitive mind. Being fluid and allowing ourselves to be human beings not controlled machines.

Question 4: Are there wrong types of happiness?

Are things black or white; right or wrong. This mindset demonstrates a level of scarcity and fixedness. Happiness is many things, but not that. Happiness has multiple flavours, textures and colours. What determines if something is right or wrong is our value system. The same can be said about happiness from a cultural aspect. What one culture deems virtuous, another does not. As an example, Asian countries value socially engaged emotions such as harmony, friendliness and kindness. In contrast, the European countries value pride and personal achievement. We need to be aware through whose lens we are looking, and also need to be tolerant and respectful that we all wear different lenses. There is no wrong happiness; but what is valued and resonates for you.

So, we need to tread carefully and not make happiness the benchmark for psychological and emotional well-being. We need to become aware that the power lies in balancing the positive with the negative in a harmonious way. Finding what the right dose is for each of us, the dose that makes us flourish and be our best possible self.


Gruber, J., Mauss, I., & Tamir, M. (2011). A Dark Side of Happiness? How, When, and Why Happiness Is Not Always Good. Perspectives on Psychological Science Volume: 6 issue: 3, 222-233.

Happiness at work. Does it matter?

Happiness at work. Does it matter?

The main goal for many companies is to be profitable and sustainable, and at a push to promote well-being and employee performance. Old business models that exclude employee well-being and happiness are fast becoming outdated and unattractive for stakeholders. Happiness in the workplace is becoming a more popular topic these days and companies can decide when and how they are going to incorporate human well-being into their business strategy. It’s important to remember that the early adopters (Google, Zappers, Virgin and Facebook) have by no means reduced their market share or profitability by incorporating the concept of happiness in the workplace. In fact, it’s quite the opposite!

Humans live for, on average, 700,000 hours and during that time we spend 56,000 hours at work (± 30 years). Millennials, the new work generation born between 2000and 2015, mainly want to be happy at, in and during work. Other generations may not agree with this outlook; however, because Millennials are going to be influencing the work environment for the next 30 to 50 years, it means that we are going to have to embrace and be curious about their outlook on life and work.

What could potentially make us sceptical about the whole happiness concept is that we don’t necessarily understand what it means, how to attain it, maintain it and even if it’s genuinely relevant to business principles. The fact that there are several definitions of happiness doesn’t help the cause. The same argument can be made for work engagement. Various definitions and concepts exist that elaborate what drives engagement. While we are trying to solve the definition challenge, companies are looking for engaged and happy employees, but aren’t sure what or how that looks like.

A Google search in September 2015 of the phrase “happiness at work” came up with 261 million web pages. That shows that the topic is of great interest and that there are obviously many unhappy employees. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation has predicted that by 2020 depression will be the second highest cause of work absenteeism. That’s only three years down the line!

With up to a quarter of employees suffering from stress because of their work, it is obvious that our current work-life model is heading in an undesirable direction. The scientific field of Positive Psychology offers answers to our downward unhappiness spiral. The principle of Positive Psychology is that it focuses on what works well and what we can do to improve our happiness level with the purpose of enabling individuals, groups and institutions to thrive and operate at an optimal level. The goal of Positive Psychology is to look and explore the other side of the coin.

The term “Positive Psychology” is often interpreted with scepticism and associated with a new spiritual philosophy that is promoted through endless self-help tips and quick fixes. Exploring its roots, one can see that it is a strand of the traditional psychology which ensures that it undergoes the same amount of scientific rigour and evidence-based testing for it to be associated to psychology. Psychology’s primary mission is to improve people’s quality of life and to cure mental illnesses. Positive Psychology focuses strongly on improving people’s quality of life.

Let’s explore why happiness in the workplace matters and for whose benefit. Positive Organisation Behaviour has five components:

Self-efficacy          Believing in one’s own abilities results in making positive choices, being motivated, trying harder                                      through persistence, thinking positively and being resistant to stress.

Hope                        A motivational state that through willpower and determination achieves objectives and goals.

Optimism              A mindset perspective wherein people trust that everything happens for a positive and good                                               reason.

Happiness             Individual well-being or happiness shows that happy people are more satisfied with their work.

Emotional             Is extremely useful at work as it enables one to recognise, manage and regulate one’s own             Intelligence          emotions and those of others.

These components are desirable in all employees and even more so during times of organisational change and transformation. The negative components can spiral very fast and companies may miss the fact that there are “sick” characteristics that hinder change, growth, performance and productivity which limit its ability to achieve its desired business objectives. Meta-analysis and studies conducted over the past ten years demonstrate that happy employees and positive organisational behaviour contribute between 13% and 25% of the organisation’s bottom line.

Combining positive happy workers with positive organisational behaviour has a substantial impact on both the worker as well as the organisation’s performance and business results. These results have a far wider and deeper reach than material resources, state of the art systems or business models.


Moccia, S. (2016). Happiness At Work. Psychologist Papers, Vol. 37(2), 143-151.

Is there a dark side to happiness? Part 1

Is there a dark side to happiness? Part 1

As humans, we are instinctively drawn to the positive. We tend to move towards positive situations, people and life-giving energy. This is referred to as the heliotropic effect. Positive energy allows us to process information more accurately which leads to an improved recall process. We learn and grow faster in positive environments, we perform at our best and we are much kinder to others and ourselves. So, this positive heliotropic effect should naturally be good for us. Likewise, pursuing happiness has scientifically demonstrated that it allows us to flourish, perform at our optimal, increase our well-being, broaden our attention span and become more goal orientated. But can too much of a good thing be bad for us? And what is too much?

Researcher June Gruber (2011) explored the concept of a dysfunctional dark side to happiness. At its minimum level, happiness includes life satisfaction experiencing more positive than negative emotions and moods, combining the emotional with the cognitive well-being. The automatic answer appears to be no. The questions Gruber asked are relevant to understanding the dark side of happiness:

Question 1: Is there a wrong quantity of happiness?

The first question is interesting as it questions whether  too much of a good thing is bad for us. Can too many positive emotions be maladaptive? We know that too much exercising can lead to physical injuries, too much working results in stress and possibly burnout, too much ruminating causes procrastination, decision-paralysis and exercise dieting results in bodily–organ–systems damage.

The same applies to happiness. An excessive level of a psychological state, negative or positive, is believed to be unhealthy and may lead to maladaptive behaviour and thoughts. The secret lies in moderation – everything in a balanced quantity. Excessive extreme happiness swings are unhealthy for us and may even come at a cost.

  • Decline in creativity;
  • Increase in riskier behaviours such as alcohol or drug consumption, binge eating and drinking, and promiscuous sexual activities;
  • Ignoring warning signs of threats and danger to our well-being;
  • The inability to feel or allow negative emotions.

Even people who have developed and grown their happiness levels experience negative emotions and feelings. They equally have bad days, disappointments and low moods. However, they manage them with a curious, open mind and don’t aim to deny or suppress those emotions; using a balanced approach.

We need to tread carefully and not make happiness the benchmark for people’s psychological and emotional well-being. Learning that the wisdom lies in balancing the positive with the negative in a harmonious way. Finding what the right dose is for each of us, the dose that makes us flourish and be our best possible self.

Next week, we’ll continue exploring the answers to questions 2 to 4 on this topic.

Why money doesn’t buy us happiness

Why money doesn’t buy us happiness

Money is a resource that we all need to have to live and survive on earth. It’s the commodity that allows us to satisfy our needs; well certainly our basic needs anyway. Our “wants” might be occasionally or partially fulfilled. Our needs and wants continue to grow as we satisfy them which brings them into the ever spiralling paradox of scarcity.

Have you ever wondered why money ever came into existence? Surely it was never intended to cause misery, diversity and classification in the world. But it did. We might work to earn money to support our families and lifestyle. We may not even enjoy our work, but we endure it to survive. That is a sad reality for many individuals.

Often we wonder why people haven’t become happier while the world has become wealthier. Compared to seventy years ago, we have much more technology, better health care, and a higher standard of education, etc. The world now is more advanced than what our grandparents ever knew. However, we have not become happier. In actual fact, according to research conducted, we have become unhappier.

Why is that? Let’s look at some facts:

  1. We aren’t comparing like for like. As our wealth increases so do our standards. We can’t compare today with the 1950s because the world has evolved too much.
  2. It’s human nature to use benchmarks to measure ourselves against. When it comes to wealth and especially the more fluid element of money, we use our friends, family and social networks to compare ourselves against. If our friends are wealthier than us it impacts on our happiness. If it’s the other way around, we feel happier. It’s crazy but the saying “Keeping up with the Jones” rings true in this case.
  3. We adapt to having money and need a certain level to remain happy. Building more wealth gives our happiness level a short-term boost of up to four to six months and then we settle back to our happiness level before the boost. Humans habituate quickly and money is no different.

That’s all good, but when does money make us happy?

Money raises our level of happiness under three circumstances.

  1. When we haven’t met our basic needs and acquiring more money enables us to do so. Researchers say that the annual income per person mark is around $20,000, which equates to approximately R350,000. In South Africa the majority of citizens are on $10,000. So for a developing country like South Africa, money matters.
  2. If we share our money with less fortunate people, our happiness level increases because it provides a positive emotion of giving. It’s a reason why the elite wealthy donate money for charitable work. They recall the positive experience which they savour and store in their memory. Money buys happiness if spent on others.
  3. People spend money to savour a long-term experience (such as a holiday). It usually involves a build-up of planning, anticipating and then experiencing, with the end result of having to share and relive the memory with someone. This process builds our happiness with the emphasis being on the experience.

Money creates synthetic happiness that fades quickly and then we need to buy more to keep having these highs. If we are seeking true happiness, we need to look for enduring versus fleeting happiness and we get that from building strong positive relationships with family, friends and social connections, participating in community projects, being physically and psychologically healthy, and experiencing more positive emotions than negative ones. Seek enduring happiness!

Money is like health; absence breeds misery.

Having it does not guarantee happiness.

Contact us for more information about achieving your personal development goals.

Leading a happy life starts with understanding what life you lead

Leading a happy life starts with understanding what life you lead

Leading a happy life is what parents wish for their children, family and friends. Happiness is a state most of us strive to achieve. What we often don’t realize is the art and science involved in becoming happy. Yes, we can develop and grow our level of happiness, but for that we need to understand what happiness is.

Seligman who is the father of Positive Psychology (the science of human flourishment and fulfilment) describes three pathways to happiness. They are commonly referred to as the three lives. Each pathway builds on from the previous and forms a natural level of progression. To transition from one happiness level to another is not an automatic natural cycle. Rather progression needs conscious and deliberate practice and effort. Similar to mastering a skill requires repetitive practice, routine and discipline, especially in the early stages until with time it becomes part of one’s lifestyle and persona. It becomes naturally part of ones being.

Life coaches explain the three happiness lives:

  1. A pleasant life – We live to experience positive and pleasurable feelings. We find mechanisms to maintain positive emotions. Our focus is on deriving pleasure to avoid the feeling of pain or suffering. We engage in activities that we feel comfortable in, but we get bored with them at some time and need more of it. The downside is that we plateau in our personal growth and self-development.
  1. A good life – Who doesn’t want to lead a good life? The good life focuses on two important components. 1) They are to establish what our strengths are and then to actively utilize them by setting new invigorating challenges. 2) We connect, participate and engage with our family and friends. We nurture and maintain relationships with people we deeply love and care for.
  1. A meaningful life is an extensive life where we give back to our community, society and world. We aim to focus on our virtues that are much bigger than ourselves. What precisely the “giving back” part is depends entirely on you and your values, passion and life purpose. This will differ from person to person and thus makes it subjective. It will be areas that give you personal and heartfelt meaning, happiness and fulfilment.

You can use Positive Psychology tools and techniques to support you in progressing from one life to another or to sustain the life you have chosen. Life is not a linear process and situations arise that can knock the wind out of our sails, but the more tools you have to build your happiness level the quicker you bounce back.

If you want to grow your happiness level and don’t know where to start, then look at our Craft Your Happiness Program for further assistance.