Step 6 to Financial Success: Help Others!
--- Students love to hear your personal experience! Before previewing this lesson, jot down some ideas on how serving and giving has enriched your life. Think of any people who "have it all," but are miserable because of their selfish lifestyle. Think of others who have little, but are happy.
--- Either have students read this opening article for homework (online or print) or have several good readers read it aloud in class. At the end of the article, you'll find some activities, discussions and questions to reinforce this lesson.
What's it all for? Why are we trying to get ahead financially anyway? The open hand represents lending a hand to others.
Sure, it's fun to accumulate enough cash to have more things and less worries. But lots of suddenly wealthy people are shocked to find that money let them down. It didn't bring the happiness they expected.
So what brings happiness? Can money help?
Psychologists Find Happiness in Weird Places
Times were that Psychologists mostly studied unhappy people, trying to figure out why they were unhappy. Recently, they decided to study happy people, to find out why they were happy. Some of their findings were counterintuitive.
- In one study, there was no difference between the happiness level of 22 lottery winners and comparison samples of average people or even paraplegics. (1)
- "Surveys have found virtually the same level of happiness between the very rich individuals on the Forbes 400 and the Maasai herdsman of East Africa."
- "Compared to 1957, we are now 'the doubly affluent society'—with double what money could buy back then. We have twice as many cars per person. We eat out two and a half times as often. In the late 1950s, few Americans had dishwashers, clothes dryers, or air conditioning; today, most do."
If more things make us happier, people today should be twice as happy as people were then. But are they? No. Compared to people in the 1950's, statistics find us less happy, with three times the number of teen suicides and many more depressed people. (3)
- People who strive most for wealth tend to be less happy than others. Those who strive for "intimacy, personal growth, and contribution to the community" have a better quality of life. (4)
So money sure isn't a cure-all. What brings happiness?
This is what social scientists have come up with, in studies that involved a lot of people and sometimes spanned several countries. (5) I’ll put them in a handy acrostic (H.A.P.P.I.E.R.) to help us remember.
Keys to Happiness
(According to Recent Scientific Studies)
Help Others (Bringing happiness to others makes us happy.)
Frederick Douglass, a former slave and conductor on the "Underground Railroad," risked his life to free slaves. How do you think his service impacted his personal happiness? According to Douglass,
"True as a means of destroying slavery, it was like an attempt to bail out the ocean with a teaspoon, but the thought that there was one less slave, and one more freeman -- having myself been a slave, and a fugitive slave -- brought to my heart unspeakable joy."
"Unspeakable joy." Isn’t that what we’re all hoping to find? Douglass found it by helping others.
Benjamin Franklin thought this so important that he asked himself each morning: "What good shall I do this day?" Each evening, he reflected, "What good have I done today?" (6)
Attitude Check (Count your blessings and be grateful.)
William James, the incredibly diverse intellectual who taught philosophy, psychology, anatomy and physiology at Harvard, once said that
"Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes."
It’s kind of like the person who said, "I complained that I had no shoes, till I met someone who had no feet."
Pursue Quality Relationships (With family and friends.)
Loving things and using people leads to misery. Loving people and using things leads to happiness. Money is a thing, a tool, a means to an end, not the end. Use it to help people and you're more likely to enjoy life.
Pardon Those Who Wrong You (Don’t hold grudges.)
According to Gary McKay, Ph.D., ''You have the capacity to choose what you think about. If you choose to think about past hurts, you will continue to feel bad. While it's true you can't change the effect past influences had on you once, you can change the effect they have on you now.''
Immerse Yourself in Something (Work and/or play.)
To love what you do and feel that it matters, how could anything be more fun? (Katharine Graham)
Remember our discussion about strengths? Keep looking for things you love so much that you lose all track of time doing them.
Keep trying new things, having new experiences. You’ll discover many things you can lose yourself in. Hopefully, one of them will translate into a job.
Envy Not (Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses.)
Socrates was once asked, "Who is the wealthiest?" to which he replied, "He who is content with the least, for contentment is nature's wealth."
An extensive, recent study found religious people reporting higher levels of happiness than the irreligious. (7) Many people report that connecting with God gives them a source of joy that carries them through even the most difficult of circumstances.
Studies find deeply religious teens experiencing less guilt, significantly less depression, and much more happiness. (8) Studies also found that the most satisfying sex goes on in stable marriages (as religions often emphasize), not among bar-hopping singles. (9)
The Bottom Line
People intent on finding happiness through amassing wealth will probably be disappointed. If you can't afford life's basics, more money can help. Beyond that, start forgiving, giving, and caring about others. Happiness tends to come as a byproduct of an outward-focused life.
Activities, Discussions and Questions
1. Positive Versus Negative Communications (Discussion)
Teacher Hal Urban says this activity makes quite an impact. In a group discussion, he identifies two categories of interpersonal communications, “Positive Communications” and “Negative Communications” (I’d write these on the board or overhead.)
Then, he asks students to brainstorm the types of communications that belong in each category. For example, “Positive Communications” may include praise, encouragement, compliments, honesty, humor, sympathy, etc. “Negative Communications” might include put-downs, name-calling, laughing at people, complaining, etc.
He follows the brainstorm with the question, “Which do you hear the most frequently?” They always say they hear and say more negatives than positives. In the ensuing discussion, you can ask “Why?” (Perhaps because we focus on the negative?) and “How could it change our lives if we began to communicate more in the positive category?”
2. The Encouragement Hot Seat
Urban, in his book, Life’s Greatest Lessons or 20 Things I Want My Kids to Know, mentions an activity which he does in his psychology courses, which he considers “one of the most effective teaching techniques I’ve ever used.” Here’s how it goes:
Each student takes her turn in the “hot seat,” with all the other students seated in a semicircle facing her. First, she tells the class “what’s good about me,” what she likes about herself. Although this isn’t easy for most people, Urban notes that it’s important for students to “acknowledge their positive characteristics and habits.”
Second, the rest of the students tell her what they like about her. Oh, and there’s one rule: no comments about looks or clothing.
Suggestion: This type activity works only when students have gotten to know each other somewhat during the year. Make sure to have “get to know you” activities each week so that the students know each other. The last think you want is for a student to get in the “hot seat” that nobody even knows enough to say anything good about!
3. The Complaint Fast
Urban also suggests an activity that had such power that he made it a part of his class for eighteen years. It shows students the truth in philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s statement:
“We seldom think of what we have but always of what we lack.”
Part I: A Complaint Fast
First, he asks his students to try to go twenty-four hours without complaining. If they fail, they should note on a piece of paper how many times they complain or are tempted to complain.
Part II: Debriefing
Next class period, he asks students to guess how many students succeeded in not complaining even once. (They usually predict between six and twelve, in a class of thirty). Yet, for eighteen years, the result has always been zero!
In the ensuing conversation, Urban asks two questions:
Question #1 – “What was the purpose of the assignment?”
Question #2 – “What did you learn from trying it?”
Students invariably conclude that they complain too much and the things they complain about are generally trivial.
Part III: Written Reflections
Immediately following the discussion, Urban gives each student a paper with the words, “I’m thankful for…” across the top and three columns below, labeled “Things” (for material things), “People”, and “Other” (“freedom, opportunity, friendship, love, intelligence, abilities, health, talents, peace, faith, God,” etc.) For about 20 minutes, students try to fill each column.
Part IV: Practicing Thankfulness
Dr. Urban next challenges his students to read their lists at four times during the next 24 hours: “after lunch, before dinner, before going to sleep, and the next morning before going to school or work.”
Part V: Final Debriefing
The next day, he asks them to express their feelings, compared to the day they tried to not complain. It’s almost magical how this simple exercise makes them come alive. Their quality of life improves significantly when they focus on what’s right with life rather than what’s wrong.
Recommended Resources on Enjoying Life
Hal Urban, Life's Greatest Lessons: 20 Things That Matter (Fireside: 2005). I was so impressed with this book that I paid one of my children to read it. (I'm in good company, since Thomas Edison's dad paid his son to read.) It emphasizes the character qualities, such as honesty and giving, that he learned through life. Not preachy. Just wise, clear, motivating life lessons.
It's one thing to present a persuasive lesson encouraging students to serve others, quite another thing to sell them on the idea. Many won't buy in until they actually do some acts of kindness and experience the good feelings that come with altruism.
The following article links you to sites that give lots of great ideas for acts of kindness.
Related Character Traits
In the members section, we offer hundreds of stories, activities and lessons on the character traits that relate to this session. See particularly cheerfulness, gratitude, courtesy, generosity/service, kindness, empathy, acceptance, and forgiveness.
Our book, Money: How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Enjoy It covers this topic in the final chapter. Being in story form, it's fun to have students read it aloud in front of the class, playing different characters. The story form makes the principles more memorable. Discussion and activities can follow. The book is due out in the Fall of 2008, but we have some advance copies left that we give out for your use and input.
- Oliver James, Children Before Cash, "The Guardian," May 17, 2003.
- (http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/invest/forbes/P95294.asp Forbes Now it's a fact: Money doesn't buy happiness)
- Wealth, Well-Being and the New American Dream, by David G. Myers (http://character-education.info/Articles/Happiness_Versus_Materialism.htm )
- From the research of Psychologists Richard Ryan, Tim Kasser, and the earlier findings of H.W. Perkins.
- Marilyn Elias, Psychologists Now Know What Makes People Happy, USA Today, 2/10/02; also Time Magazine, January 17, ’05; acrostic developed by Steve Miller and Legacy Educational Resources.)
- Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, Inc., 1996) p. 68.
- Funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., The National Study on Youth and Religion was conducted from 2001-2005 through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They surveyed 3,370 young people across the nation, between 13 and 17 years of age. 54% of the spiritually devoted teens described themselves as "very happy," contrasted with 29% of the spiritually disengaged. 7% of the spiritually devoted teens felt guilty often, compared to 12% of the spiritually disengaged. See Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, by Christian Smith, with Melinda Lundquist Denton (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), especially chapter 7: Adolescent Religion and Life Outcomes.
- Ibid., p. 225.
- "The people who reported being the most physically pleased and emotionally satisfied [with sex] were the married couples." Robert T. Michael, John H. Gagnon, Edward O. Laumann, and Gina Kolata, Sex in America: A Definitive Survey, (LIttle, Brown and Co., Boston and New York), p. 124."The young single people who flit from partner to partner and seem to be having a sex life that is satisfying beyond most people's dreams are, it seems, mostly a media creation." Ibid., p. 131.