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Money really can buy happiness

How much would you pay for a lifetime of happiness? Studies show money really can buy happiness…when you’re paying it forward.

A wealth of research is increasingly showing that spending money on others may actually make you happier, repeatedly demonstrating that there’s a direct link between generosity and happiness.

We’re hardwired to give of ourselves

Being generous has been shown to stimulate the area of the brain associated with reward systems—called the striatum. In a study published in Nature, researchers used MRI to investigate the brain mechanisms at work. They found that “striatal activity during generous decisions is directly related to changes in happiness,” and plays a fundamental role in linking generosity with happiness.

Altruism leads to generosity

“Generous decisions” apply to more than just financial actions; they also apply to times when we give of ourselves, sharing kindness or compassion. Studies have shown that being kind to others decreases stress levels and improves mental health. They’ve also shown that being kind to others is more beneficial psychologically than being kind to yourself.

According to “Happy People Become Happier Through Kindness,” a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine at National Institutes of Health, generosity creates a psychological feedback loop with happiness, writing that “happy people are inclined to be more altruistic, and altruism makes them happier.”

Generosity leads to happiness

One study published in Science Magazine revealed the real connection between money and happiness, showing that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness. “Participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.”

In the study, conducted by researchers at Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia, one group of participants (we’ll call them Group 1) recalled a previous purchase made for themselves while another group recalled a purchase they made for someone else (Group 2). Then they were asked to report their happiness. Afterward, researchers gave participants small sums of money and told them they could either spend it on themselves or someone else. In the end, Group 2 not only reported feeling happier, but they also were more likely to spend the money on someone else.

And happiness leads to altruism

It’s a virtuous cycle: altruism leads to generosity, generosity leads to happiness, and happiness leads to even greater altruism. So yes, money can buy you happiness. But it isn’t necessarily the cash per se; it’s the actual giving that leads to happiness. So whether you’re giving time, money, talent or kindness, you’re doing as much for your own well-being as you are for others.

You may also like 16 Ways to Feel Happier in an Hour or Less.

10 ways to build resilience

We all face challenges in life, those times when we need to tap into our inner strength and keep moving forward. Resilience is the ability of ours to get back up after we’ve been knocked down. When we’re resilient, we can acknowledge our failures, learn from our mistakes and keep moving forward.

So how does one develop resilience? The same way we develop other facets of our character: practice, practice, practice. So we dare you: each time you get knocked down, refer back to this infographic for guidance. The key, according to the American Psychological Association, is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.

build resilience

Special thanks to the American Psychological Association for sharing the content for this infographic.

16 ways to feel happier in an hour or less

If the pressures of school and life have you feeling down, there’s no better pick-me-up than serving others. Volunteering doesn’t just take your mind off your worries. Doing good for others just feels good.

While volunteering can be a formal commitment you make to an existing organization, it can also simply be a promise you make to yourself to help someone in need. So if you think you don’t have time to volunteer, here are 16 quick ways to brighten your day—and someone else’s—in one hour or less.

#1 Serve. Find a local shelter or meal program and take an hour to help serve hungry people.

#2 Staff. Speaking of food, local pantries are often looking for volunteers to sort food, stock shelves or fill orders for clients.

#3 Give. Don’t have time to organize a blood drive? Volunteer at one instead. Can’t find any upcoming blood drives? Donate blood on your own.

#4 Donate. Gather clothing in good condition that you won’t wear again or high-quality toys from your childhood and donate them to an organization that can put them to good use.

#5 Create. Assemble a group of friends and make holiday cards and surprises for kids in the hospital. Think Valentine cards in February, fun-filled Easter eggs in the spring, trick-or-treat prizes in the fall or Christmas trinkets in the winter. Take another hour to distribute them.

#6 Yardwork. Help out an elderly neighbor by raking their leaves, shoveling their snow or mowing their lawn.

#7 Prepare. Keep a handful of granola bars on hand for times you come upon someone with a sign indicating they’re hungry.

#8 Write. In less than 30 minutes, you can write a personal letter to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces to express gratitude for the work they’re doing. Not sure where to send it? Google will give you a long list of options.

#9 Share. Whether it’s a vending machine, a parking meter or a coffee shop drive-thru, leave behind a couple extra dollars for the next person in line.

#10 Decorate. Contact a local elder-care facility to see if you can decorate one of its common spaces for an upcoming holiday.

#11 Weed. Volunteer at a local community garden during the growing season. You can clean a big area in one hour.

#12 Beautify. Grab a few friends and pick up debris from a local park.

#13 Call. Pick up your phone and call an elderly neighbor. Ask if they need anything and offer to take them to run errands.

#14 Craft. Make a tie blanket for a veteran or a sock-bone pet toy for dogs at a local shelter.

#15 Cook. Know a family that just lost a loved one? Or a family experiencing serious illness? Make and deliver a home-cooked meal to them.

#16 Teach. Spend an hour at a senior center to help people who struggle with technology. Help residents set up Facebook pages or Instagram accounts and teach them to use Skype to stay in better touch with family.


Three surprising qualities of successful leaders

When you think about the qualities of successful leaders, you may think of someone driven, charismatic, visionary or confident. The truth about the qualities that truly make a leader successful, however, looks a little different. It looks more like servant leadership, where leading is less about getting employees to follow you and more about you serving employees.


Successful leaders seek to serve first

Servant leadership, as defined by Greenleaf.org, is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world. You can see it playing out in a variety of successful businesses and organizations. And you can see it in three surprising qualities of a good leader from Karla Cook on Hubspot.com.

At first they may seem counterintuitive. But when you take a closer look, they all align with the characteristics of a servant leader.

#1 Successful leaders experience self-doubt

Insecurity can lead to more critical thinking, and that leads to more realistic decisions. Self-doubt can also keep a leader from becoming too comfortable in their position. It takes character to keep the self-doubt in check, though. Too often, people will try to hide their insecurities through bullying, behaving like a know-it-all or micromanaging. The key here is to use your doubt to become more adaptable to change and continuously improve yourself.

#2 Successful leaders are predictable

Twice a year, Google employees review their bosses in an “upward feedback survey” where they evaluate 12 to 18 factors, according to Inc.com. In reviewing the data, Google found that the most successful leaders are predictable and consistent—as those qualities essentially remove leaders as road blocks to employee progress. Leaders’ predictability encourages more creativity and autonomy in the workplace, which leads to greater employee happiness and higher job performance.

#3 Successful leaders work collaboratively

In today’s fast-paced world, there’s no room for ivory towers where directives are handed down for everyone else to execute. Successful leaders know they do not have a monopoly on the best ideas. Instead, they know how to put their egos aside and open themselves to others’ ideas, understanding that many of the best ideas come from teams who are welcome to share conflicting opinions and who have high morale because they are connected with one another and know their opinions are valued.

Successful leaders are servants first

While some traditional notions about good leaders can certainly help you be more successful (e.g., charisma, decisiveness), the outmoded idea that a leader is at the top of the pyramid will not. Servant leaders share power and develop people, leading to greater success for all.

Infographic shows the changing face of leadership

Today’s changing work force is calling for a new kind of leadership. Gone are the days of the executive handing down orders for the minions to accomplish. Today’s climate calls for a new, more inclusive, multi-directional, team-based approach that makes the most of diverse teams and provides them the autonomy to show what they can do. The following infographic, with much credit to Collaborative Lead Co., contrasts how far we’ve come from traditional leadership styles toward what more and more organizations are finding most most effective in current workplaces.

What is character anyway?


Character reflects who we really are

Character: The word is all over our website, our blog, our social channels; it’s even in our name. And developing it is our mission. But what is character? And why does it matter?

Jackson Brown, Jr., is credited with saying that our character is what we do when we think no one is looking. It’s the difference between acting kind and being kind, between pretending to care and actually caring, and serving out of altruism rather than for personal benefit. Character is the foundation for all true success.

Character as a cultural concept
People began using the concept of character in the 17th century, and its popularity peaked in the 19th century, according to Warren Susman in “Culture as History.” But in the 20th century, people traded the notion of identifying themselves by the quality of their character in order to identify themselves by their personality, hobbies and material possessions—away from achievement and toward performance. It signaled a transition traded being the type of person they wanted to be for advertising themselves as they wanted to be perceived.

Traits of someone with character
When we say achievement, we are referring to achieving a higher level of character or ethics. It’s an amalgam of honesty, integrity, compassion, humility and forgiveness, patience and self-control.

And it’s marked by truly caring about those around us—uplifting others when they’re down, encouraging people facing challenges and befriending those who appear lonely. It can be as simple as holding a door open for the person behind you.

How to develop character
Character can’t be built in a day, nor can it sustain itself once achieved. Character requires continuous practice first to acquire it, then to keep it. But how do we practice character? The same way Benjamin Franklin did and the same way we practice everything else. Just like to learning to play the piano, serve a tennis ball or become a good cook, we need to focus on the one thing that needs the most work.

That’s what Character Dares do. They challenge you to target a specific trait each week and practice it. Need help getting started? We can help. Every Monday we issue a new Character Dare on our Facebook page that helps you focus on a practical, character-building activity to practice all week long. Need to work on something else, see our past dares. Whatever way you approach it, you can’t help but improve through regular practice.

Why character matters
When you think about our schools, neighborhoods and businesses, all will thrive better with more individuals of high character. Our leaders will work to serve first and foster the growth of others. The world around us will become kinder, more compassionate and tolerant. People will feel their worth and acknowledge the same in others. We can and we will make the world a better place.

The Power of Forgiveness

The ever-quotable Tyler Perry once said, “It’s not an easy journey, to get to a place where you forgive people. But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you.” True forgiveness is difficult, and in some aspects, our society has warped the journey of forgiveness. Some people believe it makes you strong to be unrelenting, that giving in to the requests of others or forgiving those who have hurt or wronged you in some way makes you weak; in truth, however, it is the opposite.

The true value of forgiveness is in the strength that it bestows on the one who is letting go of the anger they hold inside of themselves. It is much more difficult to be vulnerable than it is to lock up your emotions.

Desmond Tutu, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work for the opposition of apartheid in South Africa, once said that “Forgiveness is like this: a room can be dank because you have closed the window, you’ve closed the curtains. But the sun is shining outside, and the air is fresh outside. In order to get that fresh air, you have to get up and open the window and draw the curtains apart.”

When we hold onto anger, resentment or betrayal, we are closing ourselves off to so much good. Forgiveness is good for our souls in the way that fresh air is good for our lungs. Clinically, forgiveness is associated with many powerful health benefits. Lower heart rate and blood pressures, reduced fatigue, and improved sleep quality are just a few that psychologists and doctors have pointed out as benefits to letting go of past hurt.

There is an important difference, however, in saying ‘I forgive you,’ and truly forgiving a person, to letting go of the hurt, anger and resentment that were caused because of their actions. But how do we go about giving up a grudge and forgiving someone who has hurt or betrayed us—especially when it is human nature to obsess, pick apart and relive particularly hurtful memories?

Fred Luskin, the author of a book entitled Forgive For Good, tells his readers to rewrite their own story. Rather than victimizing yourself, make yourself a survivor, the hero of your own story. His advice is to follow a four-step plan:

Step 1: One, look deep inside yourself and find the true root of your anger. Look at the situation clinically, as though you are a third party simply listing details, so that you detach yourself from the original sentiments that could cloud the situation.

Step 2: Review your grievance story and reengineer it so that it empowers you, rather than brings you down. Notice the strengths you may have developed from the situation.

Step 3: Develop your capacity for empathy, both for yourself and for the person that has wronged you. You may not agree with them, you may even still be angry with them, but making yourself view things from their point of view will give you a different understanding of the situation. Everyone has the capacity to understand and forgive without accepting the situation.

Step 4: Create new associations with your story. Perhaps develop a ritual that signifies the closing of a chapter, where you can appreciate and experience love and support and welcome in the good without solely focusing on the bad.

Forgiveness is not easy, and that’s why it makes those who undertake it such warriors. Like with anything, the first step is always the hardest. You don’t have to begin by leaving the dank room, or even by completely pulling apart the curtains. There is no shame in starting small. Perhaps begin with just cracking the window; just think how nice the fresh air will be.

Respecting children: why it matters and how to show it

Maya Angelou, an American poet and civil rights activist, once said, “If we lose love and self-respect for each other, this is how we finally die.” In our world as it is today, respect is one of the most valuable lessons that we can learn in life. To respect ourselves and others gives each person a sense of self-worth that can transfer into every aspect of our lives, and it begins in childhood. It is always said that our children are our future, yet oftentimes society forgets that we are the ones that mold that future. While we teach our children that they must respect us, the lesson that is often lost is that we must also respect them in return.

You can instill respect in your children through example in many ways. A simple phrase of “excuse me” in day-to-day conversations can instill a respect for others when you make the effort to not interrupt them. Everyone should feel as though what they have to say is important and valued. You should never cut off your child’s voice. Speech is the tool that they use to communicate with everyone, not just you. It is how they express their thoughts, feelings and desires, and if you make an effort to not restrict this, you will in turn teach them to respect the voices of their peers, of the adults around them and of their own children when that time comes in the future.

It is also important to respect your child’s personal space. This can be different for each child. Everyone has different idiosyncrasies and preferences when it comes to personal space. Your child should be able to feel comfortable with you, whether it be in how they socially interact with you or physically interact with you. Teaching children love and respect through example at an early age will show them that they are in a safe environment and that they can trust you unconditionally.

Try to avoid constantly ordering or directing your child. You are the boss; they should know this, but they should also feel that they have choices. Set boundaries and let your child work freely within those boundaries themselves. If you respect your child’s time and wishes and give them your trust, they will learn that you are not the enemy but an ally who’s there for them.

When in doubt, remember the golden rule, to treat others as you would wish to be treated, and apply it to your child. If you lead by example, your child will follow. Remember that you are the biggest person in their world for only a short period of time, so make the most of the time that is given to you.

What have you done for others today?

Winston Churchill once said that “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Can you think of the last time someone asked you “What did you do for others today?” In a society that is constantly influencing us to put our needs in front of those around us, we all forget from time to time to ask this of ourselves, and of those around us. In a world that has struggled for centuries to find the recipe for happiness, the solution might be much simpler than previously thought.

Kindness and helping others is contagious and also good for us. Ex-scientist turned inspirational writer, David Hamilton writes that there is scientific evidence that kindness changes the brain, impacts the heart and immune system and may even be an antidote against the symptoms of depression. Hamilton’s book fuses scientific research around being kind with inspirational real-life examples of kindness from ordinary people. Our bodies are happiest and healthiest when we are being kind to those around us. When we give to others, it activates the areas in our brain that are associated with pleasure, social connections and trust.

Giving to others can take many forms. You can give of your time through volunteering, sharing your skills or focusing on a cause that you view as important. Sometimes just a simple smile at a stranger or holding the door open for someone is all it takes to help form the glue of kindness that connects the individuals in our communities. The miracle of kindness is, through its own chain reaction, your simple act that could positively affect someone you never even knew existed.

By instigating kindness, you will begin to perceive the world differently and you will be better for it. A true act of kindness or a gift to another person without any expectations allows you to give freely. Your actions will make you a happier, better person for it, and it just might be contagious. So go ahead, spread the disease. Here’s hoping we have an epidemic on our hands.

Character Lives