In Part I, we reviewed how feeling in control has a direct correlation to both emotional and physical health. We also reviewed how being over-controlling lowers both your happiness level and the happiness level of those around you. In Part II, we explored why taking personal responsibility for your happiness mitigates the tendency to be over-controlling and, hence, increases your level of happiness. In Part III, we explore why trusting others is important to your happiness level.

In world-wide surveys, the US ranks 17th in people trusting others, with 41% of the population saying they trust other people.[1] These studies show that there is an almost direct correlation between trust levels and happiness. Of course, economies work best where there is trust. Trust that your suppliers won’t cheat you. Trust that the buyers will pay you. Trust that the legal system provides a just solution to mercantile disputes. But then there is the interpersonal trust. The trust between people in a “tribe.” Imagine that you couldn’t trust your “best friend” to, say, keep a secret. Or you couldn’t trust your next door neighbor from not stealing your mail. Or you couldn’t trust your partner not to cheat on you.


From an evolution stand-point, trust was vital to our survival. For example, if your hunting partner didn’t have your back, or ran away when the prey turned predator, you would be doomed. Similarly, if your cave or village “friend” could not be depended upon to protect your children while you were out gathering firewood, your lineage would be doomed. But if you could trust your “tribe”, you knew you could survive. So how do you build trust and get into trusting relationships?

It turns out that most of the time, when you trust someone that trust is returned. There is actually an evolutionary reason for this bias and it is due to the hormone oxytocin.[2] This molecule is better known as the “love molecule” since it is released when two people are in love with each other. Interestingly, it is also released when a mother feeds her baby, perhaps thereby associating it with a feeling of trust.

However, despite the fact that experiments indicate that we could create a community of trustworthiness by being proactively trustworthy, evolution has also hardwired us to be distrusting of others, particularly of strangers. This is logical since, in an example we’ve used before, you were more likely to survive by assuming that there was a tiger behind a bush than not. Similarly, you were more likely to survive by assuming that a stranger walking into your village was dangerous and being prepared to fight or flee, rather than the opposite (see, On Being One … And Of The Negativity Bias). To paraphrase Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis: “The cost of missing a cue that signals [safety] is low. The cost of missing the sign of [danger], however, can be catastrophic.” This may also explain why, in the vast percentage of movies, we assume extra-terrestrial aliens will mean us harm. So how do we overcome this build-in program?

Well, every once in a while we encounter someone who is pro-actively trusting and who trusts us thereby providing us with the opportunity to experience what it would be like to be able to trust others. Of course, the best way to live in world of trustworthy people is to be proactively trustworthy. Risky? Yes. You may get hurt. But you need to think whether the potential rewards are worth the risks. After all, we constantly analyze the risk-reward ratio in every decision we make. However, because we do so mostly unconsciously, we may fail to realize the hidden benefits of being proactively trustworthy. Probably the greatest benefit being that you tend to create a circle of trustworthy people… a trustworthy community. That’s because generally (but not always) trust is reciprocated. Remember, a recent study revealed that 95% of people are trustworthy when trusted.[3]

Of course, from a spiritual standpoint, as you expect so shall you receive. Remember also that this is about how to increase your level of happiness. You don’t want to be delusional and trust others when you know you shouldn’t. However, by the same token, you don’t want to distrust others more than you should because that would lower your happiness level. So what is the “smart” thing to do to raise your happiness level? To trust others more than the average person does.

Can you recall one or more instances in your life when you were pro-actively trusting with someone and the results? What about when some had been pro-actively trusting with you? How did that make you feel and what did you do afterward?

In Part IV (the last part in this series), we’ll explore the concept of “Smart Trust” which will increase the odds that you will trust trustworthy individuals.

[1]       First was Denmark where 68% of the population trust others, followed by Norway where 65% of the population trust others. Correlation between countries and happiness levels: Algan, Y., & Cahuc, P. (2013). Trust, Growth and Well-being: New Evidence and Policy Implications. North Holland, Elsevier, and World Happiness Report; http://unsdsn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/WorldHappinessReport2013_online.pdf

[2]       Kosfeld, Michael, Markus Heinrichs, Paul J. Zak, Urs Fischbacher, and Ernst Fehr (2005), “Oxytocin increases trust in humans,” Nature, 435: 673 – 676.

[3]       http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jul/15/interview-dr-love-paul-zak; Zak, P. J. (2013). The Moral Molecule: new science of what makes us good or evil. Random House; c. For Paul Zak’s TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_zak_trust_morality_and_oxytocin?language=en


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