Universal Ethics > Thought of the Month > April 2019

How to double your happiness: through vicarious joy!

Self-centred pursuit of happiness is frustrating, because it's hard to measure personal satisfaction; moreover it leaves lots of occassions for self-pity, when desired achievements are slow to come, or when times are not all fulfiling or entertaining. The cure: put attention to what you can do for others, and to how you can make the world better even in a small way. That can give you a double benefit of achievement plus empathic joy.

The ability to feel empathic joy or sadness is common to pretty much all people. A simple demonstration of that is the popularity of movies, where the audience empathizes with the hero, feels excitement as the hero faces the challenges, and finally feels satisfaction when the hero finally wins.

But a movie is not real life. It only lasts for the duration of the movie, and often it is an exaggerated world. Typically the hero has some great accomplishment, such as "saving the world" from an evil supervillan.

A real person may feel that they don't have much opportunity to make a difference, and typically it is accurate that a real person isn't put into a position of having the whole world rely on them. If a person really found themselves in such a situation, it would be one of great anxiety! So it's not a thing one should feel disappointed about missing!

Everyone wants to be appreciated, and that too is part of the attraction of movies. One imagines oneself as the hero and assumes that one is special, and appreciated by everyone. Then the movie is over and life returns to a normal, not so well appreciated reality.

A more effective way of feeling fulfilled is to play an important role in a few other people's lives, such as a parent can do for their little children, or a brother or sister can do for their family, or a person can do for his friends, or for others in his school or workplace.

A person's impact on the whole world may be small, but one can do things to bring joy to people around them. Instead of trying to measure the change you have made in the world, which would seem neglibile, focus instead on the difference you can actually make around you.

Don't worry if you have the best home, or the fanciest car, or the most brilliant spouse or children, or the most fashionable clothes. Nobody else cares whether you have those things. They're too busy worrying what you think about their home, car, family, or clothes! So instead, do things for others that will help them solve problems, enjoy friendship, or have other benefits that they will appreciate.

Along with this, one more VERY important thing to do is this: show appreciation for things that others do for you--both to encourage them, and also to not rob them of their empathic joy. Turn the joy into a reinforcing circle!

- Arthur de Leyssac, April 2019.

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