OTHER PEOPLE MATTER FOR HAPPINESS from Caren Baruch-Feldman

“Other People Matter”- Chris Peterson

March 20th was The International Day of Happiness. In celebration, throughout the month of March, I received emails sharing ways to increase my happiness. What struck me was that none of the emails suggested buying a pair of expensive shoes or a box of chocolates. Instead, the focus, and rightly so, was on what Positive Psychologist, Chris Peterson, meant by saying, “Other People Matter.” By making other people matter, happiness in the truest and deepest sense of the word is achieved.  When I think about what truly makes me “happy” and gives life meaning, it is my connection to and my ability to help others. I feel incredibly privileged that as a psychologist I “get to” focus on helping others. However, not all of us have those types of jobs. So even if you don’t have a helping job, here are three easy ways based on my three favorite musicals that will allow you to turn a day of happiness into a lifetime of happiness.

  1. “Talk Less, Smile More” – “Aaron Burr, Sir,” Hamilton: An American Musical

I must confess that seeing Hamilton for a normal price made me very happy. However, not all of us are that fortunate. But, all of us can learn from a line from the song, “Aaron Burr, Sir.” In this song, Aaron Burr encourages Hamilton to “talk less, smile more.” When we are in the presence of smiling people, we feel happy. The underlying, neurological reason for this reaction is that we all have mirror neurons. Mirror neurons mirror back the emotions of others. The converse is also true. When we are surrounded by anger or yelling (a form of talking), we mirror that emotional energy as well. So how can we use mirror neurons to our advantage? We can smile. At school, I smile and say, “Hi” to all. I have trained the kids so that when they see me, they also smile and say “hello.” The exchange of smiles and hellos starts our days off on the right foot. It’s so easy and costs nothing, so if you want to increase happiness in yourself, family, or the larger community, say “hello” with a big smile and let it be contagious.

  1. “Can Anybody See, Is Anybody Waving Back At Me?” – “Waving Through A Window,” Dear Evan Hansen the Musical

As a psychologist, I am often struck by how many children, teens, and adults feel that they are “tap, tap, tapping on a glass” but that no one is waving back at them. The need to belong is universal. Without it, we feel lost, adrift, and often depressed. So what can you do? Be inviting. Make an effort to be inclusive. Be the person who looks out for others. All of us live busy lives and it is often the case that people don’t mean to avoid waving back. However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all made a concerted effort to be a person who initiates the waving and also waves back?

  1. “Because I Knew You, I have Been Changed For Good”- “For Good,” Wicked the Musical

I have listened to this song a billion times (my daughter will confirm this fact). What is it about this song that touches me? And, what does this song have to do with happiness? The song resonates with me because I have found that through helping others, I have been changed for good. So how can you help others? Small things – like opening the door for someone or saying “thank you” to the person who serves you coffee or the colleague who helps you at work – allow you to be a change for good.

For the last six years, on the last Sunday of the month, you will find my daughter, my dog Brandy, and me at the United Hebrew Home of New Rochelle. We will be smiling, and tap, tap, tapping on the door, and asking patients, “Would you like a visit from our therapy dog, Brandy?”  What I have discovered is that bringing happiness to others and especially watching my daughter bring happiness to others is incredibly rewarding and creates more happiness than any box of chocolate or pair of sparkly shoes.

My challenge for you is that even though The International Day for Happiness has passed, let’s maintain the ripple effect of happiness by smiling more, waving back, and being the good you wish to see in the world.

Please see my website (drbaruchfeldman.com) for information about my upcoming book, titled, “The Grit Guide for Teens”. 

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