How to Find Happiness (And Give It Back Along the Way)


From the health crisis and social isolation of this pandemic, to the outrage, tension and sorrow of racial injustice, to the anxiety and financial hardship of economic turmoil, this past year has been undeniably tough. However, in a time of so much stress and worry, happiness can still be found in intentional, meaningful actions.

Based on a 2020 analysis from the American Psychological Association, acts of kindness are linked to an increase in both physical and mental health. This positive feedback loop between prosocial behavior (i.e. actions that benefit the larger community) and personal well-being could be the key to finding happiness in this current landscape. 

Helping others can enhance your mood, activate pleasure, and connect you to a sense of meaning in life, the research continues. So, if you need some happiness right now, here are four ways to create pockets of joy while being kind to others in the process.

Tip Extra to Employees in the Service Industry.

As restaurants, entertainment venues, hotels and theme parks were forced to close last year, the leisure and hospitality sectors faced significant economic loss. While these industries have begun to recover, many workers in service-related jobs still need a financial boost after months of unemployment. This is definitely something to keep in mind each time you order takeout from a local restaurant and even as you start to travel again in the near future.

Leaving an extra tip for the delivery person who drops off your meal, the barista who makes your latte or the concierge who checks you into a hotel room can brighten their day—and put a smile on your face too. Professional poker coach Lee Jones pays this act of kindness forward to the casino staff members he frequently interacts with. “Tip the food servers, cocktail waitresses and chip runners. At least in the United States, they get most of their income from tips…Surely we can pass over a couple of $1 chips (or even a $5 chip!) as a thank you to the person who brings us coffee or a hamburger,” he points out.

Send Thank You Notes to Healthcare Workers.

According to a 2021 survey from Medscape, 42 percent of healthcare workers currently deal with burnout, and one in five attribute this issue to stress of the pandemic on their jobs. Excessive demands, long hours and insufficient work-life balance all contribute to mental health concerns among these frontline heroes who sacrifice continually to make this world a safer place. But you can ease their burden just by showing your appreciation.

Set aside a couple hours to write out thank you cards to the staff at your local hospital or urgent clinic. Express gratitude for all of their tireless commitment and selfless actions to protect the community and reassure them that you see the impact they’re making. Even a few sentences in a handwritten note can help sustain these healthcare workers during a 12-hour shift. You can either mail out cards to specific nurses or doctors you have a personal connection with, or you can deliver a note to the hospital front desk for a group of healthcare workers such as the nursing staff or intensive care unit specialists.

Drop Off Essential Items for Someone In Need.

Do you have any neighbors, friends or relatives who feel unsafe to leave their homes due to being in a vulnerable, at-risk population? Maybe an immunocompromised family member needs someone to grocery shop for them, or an elderly neighbor has started to run low on essential household items. Offering to restock for them will not only bolster their peace of mind, but it also gives you a sense of purpose and satisfaction to tangibly help out.

If you want to be of service to those who are homebound, virtual platforms such as Nextdoor’s Help Map will make it simple. Once you join, this interactive website allows you to enter your street address, then check to see if anyone who lives in the same neighborhood has marked themselves in need of help, and mark yourself as someone who is able to pitch in. Or you can make an anonymous drop off to a local friend or family member whom you know could use some groceries, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and other items to tide them over for a couple weeks. Just remember, keep it contactless.  

Find an Organization to Volunteer with Online.

Last year, research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that people who volunteer on a regular basis are more satisfied with their lives and experience better mental health outcomes in the long-term. Volunteering can build social connections and activate the intrinsic reward centers in your brain, the data continues. In fact, researchers indicate that volunteering can make someone feel as happy as receiving $1000 would.

In this current landscape of physical distancing, it can be hard to safely volunteer in person, but there are organizations that enable you to volunteer remotely from behind a computer screen. You can send out email campaigns for justice reform initiatives, answer a hotline number for those in crisis situations, or flag incidents of hate speech and other human rights violations online. Here are some organizations that will take on remote volunteers:  

  • United Nations Volunteers
  • Amnesty Decoders
  • National Crisis Text Line

In Conclusion

Happiness is often found in those moments when you give back to those around you. Whether it’s shopping for a friend who can’t leave their house, tossing a few extra dollars in the tip jar for your barista at Starbucks, or volunteering a couple hours each week to a cause you believe in, the connection between happiness and helpfulness cannot be overlooked.