How often do you help out in your community? Not enough? Never? Turns out that if you’re the volunteering type, you’ve got a healthy level of happiness. That’s one finding from Dr. Cahit Guven, an economics professor at Deakin University in Australia. His recent research found—surprisingly—that very happy people aren’t as helpful in their communities as you might think. Dr. Guven fills us in:
Q: You note that happiness can benefit our society—how so?
A: Happier people do save more and consume less because they’re more concerned with the future than today and because they expect to live longer. These findings are consistent with my other findings that happier people are more optimistic. It seems like happiness might lead to less road and work accidents, better physical health, and mental health.
And as my recent research shows happier people create more “social capital” in society in the form of more volunteer work, more trust to others, and more participation in social and local events. This is important because social capital has been found to be a major determinant of a country’s wellbeing such as growth rate, crime rates, etc.
Q: But you also note that very happy people tend to contribute less to their society?
A: I found the relationship between happiness and social capital is an inverted U-shape. Basically people’s happiness affects their social behaviour even 20 years later. This means that very happy and very unhappy people contribute less to society compared to people with a medium level of happiness. It appears that very happy people are the ones who are too optimistic about life.
Q: Why do they contribute less?
A: To speculate, I think very happy, optimistic people think everything will be alright at the end anyway. Therefore why should I bother to do some volunteer work for others?
Q: So what can we as readers take away from your study?
A: Happiness is good but too much happiness might lead to unwanted outcomes in some circumstances. We should understand that one doesn’t need to be too happy in order to be a good citizen. People sometimes can have wrong judgements about others who aren’t too optimistic about life. We can change this. Besides, there are always things to do not only in our local neighbourhood but also in the country we live in and everything will not be okay unless we also participate and do something about it.
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