The Art of Feeling Good
A video from the Joe Rogan Podcast recently popped up in my YouTube feed where Joe and his guest, Johann Hari, were discussing the differing viewpoints regarding depression and its various causes.
During the podcast, Johann described a Berkeley social experiment where participants of the study were asked to make a dedicated and conscious effort to be happier for “X” amount of months. At the conclusion of the study, researchers found that participants in the US didn’t find themselves considerably happier while the participants in the other countries (Japan, Taiwan and Russia) all expressed an uptick in happiness, which obviously made the researchers scratch their heads and ask "why?".
Upon further analysis they found that American’s tried to increase their happiness by doing things for themselves (buying things, treating themselves) whereas the people in the other countries spent more time doing things for other people.
The differences in approach were attributed to latent conventions that had been built into each countries cultural and social fabric. In layman’s terms, their behaviour (helping other ppl) wasn’t something they consciously thought about, it was kinda just something they inherently did.
I found the study pretty fascinating but not entirely surprising as I’ve had some experiences of my own that correlate fairly accurately with the findings of the research.
Back in early 2018 I made the decision to walk away from a company I had spent 4-5 years helping to build and decided to take some time to focus on other areas of my life, primarily physical health (sleep, gym, nutrition, etc.) and what I would refer to as “community/contribution”.
I started volunteering at a shelter on the east side of downtown Toronto in late-January and worked the lunch shift every Thursday for the next 3-4 months. I was usually behind-the-scenes doing the dirty work - prepping, cleaning, unloading trucks - but every now and then they would throw me on the line to help serve. I always enjoyed being the guy dishing out the chocolate milk because everyone likes that guy lol…
After awhile it was kinda like going to the gym - once you’re there it’s easy but GETTING THERE is the hard part - and there were definitely days where I didn’t feel like going in. HOWEVER, walking out of there at the end of each shift knowing I helped make someone’s day better was always more refreshing and rewarding than I ever could’ve expected.
I usually just paid for street parking a block or two down from the shelter and that walk back to my car was always accompanied with a feeling of ease and lightness. It wasn’t necessarily a feeling of intense joy, it was more like a sense of contentment as a gentle calmness washed over. True satisfaction of the soul, I suppose.
Anyways, the moral of the story is this: if you want to feel better, do something for somebody else.
Note: During the podcast Joe argues that it’s kind of fucked up to only do things for other people if your primary motivation is to make yourself feel good. I kinda agree with him but does it really matter? If I decided to donate $10,000,000 and my sole purpose for doing it was to get press coverage or something like that, it still wouldn’t change the fact that I donated $10,000,000 and positively impacted and changed the lives of others.
It seems to me that the only people who would speculate and be upset over motives would be the people who have nothing to do with the situation. Do you think charities care why someone donates? Do you think benefactors and recipients would turn away donors if they said "the only reason I'm giving you this money is so I can feel good"? Obviously we know the answer.