“People get more life satisfaction out of doing things for other people than they think they will,” said UBC economics professor John Helliwell.

In a study conducted by UBC Psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn, students were each given 10 dollars and divided into two groups. One group was told to do whatever they want with the money and the other group was told to spend it on someone else. She found that people in the group told to spend the money on another person scored higher on the life satisfaction scale than their counterparts. Members of the other group could have spent the money on someone else, but most chose not to thinking their life satisfaction would increase more if they spent it on themselves.

Professor John Helliwell speaks about how people can increase their live satisfaction

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Helliwell worked with Robert Putnam out of Harvard University, who published a book called Bowling Alone that contends that being a member of a community and trusting others leads directly to increasing levels of life satisfaction. For Helliwell this includes things such as engaging with random people in elevators and looking for opportunities to do random acts of kindness. Not only do these things make Helliwell more satisfied, but he says they make other people think about ways they can contribute.

In addition to trust, community and the obvious aspect of material well-being, quick cross-tabulations using the World Values Survey found that people are also more likely to be happier when they have friends and family in their lives.
Helliwell also mentions, as Richard Layard argues, that people feel comfort and security with longer-term engagement. Short-term commitments and individual, short-term goals may be having corrosive effects on trust and loyalties. Things that discourage trust seem to be directly linked to unhappiness.

The large majority of Canadian citizens over the past two decades have considered themselves to be quite or very happy. The World Values Survey also shows that a slightly higher percentage of Canadians who consider themselves quite or very happy do not read a daily newspaper regularly. Although the study does not isolate television news, the percentage of Canadians who consider themselves very happy decreases with the amount of television they watch.

While there is not a single factor that can increase happiness, in the past decade the positive psychology movements has begun to develop. Instead of psychologists just being interested in how to take people from negative numbers up to zero, they are learning how to put people into positive numbers. And people are showing interest as books such as The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, a book devoted to helping people increase happiness, become best sellers.


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