Let’s first agree: acting kind for the sole purpose of making ourselves happier is not the goal here, and should never be anyones goal.
However, to know that it can make us happier is fascinating, and for some it’s a great nudge into building a habit that truly benefits society.
Studies show that those who act in kindness to others experience more happiness, and those who are happy are more likely to act in kindness. A vicious circle that isn’t so… vicious.
But can acts of kindness actually create permanent change?
It’s a bold claim, I know. But the data doesn’t lie.
Research shows that our happiness is 50% genetics, 10% due to circumstance, and 40% due to intentional activities.
Genetically, we are predisposed to run on the ‘hedonic treadmill’, which is our tendency to initially adjust to any negative or positive events in our lives and then return to a ‘happiness set point’, a pre-determined baseline level of happiness.
So whilst, yes, there’s not debate that genetics play a significant role in our happiness… Look at the remaining chunk! 40% of our happiness comes from our decisions about the activities we engage in on a day-to-day basis.
To live at our best we must stop running on the hedonic treadmill by maximising the 40% leeway we have, and there are a number of ways we can do this.
One of the most well researched ways is to practice the art of kindness.
The practice of giving has been shown to give a jaw-dropping host of benefits to the one giving, including:
i) More compassion for other people.
ii) A deeper insight into oneself.
iii) A distraction from troubles.
iv) Deeper and richer relationships.
v) Improved performance at work.
None of these are surprising as such, seeing as acts of kindness have been shown, via MRI scans, to stimulate the areas of the brain associated with pleasure, trust, euphoria and cooperation.
So here are some ideas for extremely simple acts of kindness which you can begin doing today which I am confident will create a long term increase in your well-being:
1. Giving a sincere compliment
The most important part of this is that it really is ‘sincere’. If there is something you notice about someone that you thoroughly appreciate, why not tell them?
You can experiment doing this with people you both know and don’t know. As long as it’s appropriate in the context, there’s nothing wrong with saying what’s on your mind.
The great thing I’ve found with this habit is the ratio of effort to reward.
For the effort of simply saying a few words, you truly make someone’s day. It’s rare people are told the good things about themselves, so when hearing it, people’s mood often dramatically changes.
You have the ability to make their bad day into a good one, and it takes near to nothing away from you, other than the enormous effort of formulating a 2 second sentence.
There are a number of things you may appreciate about someone, other than just their appearance:
i) Attributes of their personality you respect.
ii) Their skills or talents.
iii) A world-view their adopt.
iv) Their unique and/or quirky character traits.
v) Their existence!
2. Giving $5
The reason I’m giving a number value on this is to bust the myth of ‘the more you give the happier it will make you’.
Rigorous research shows it’s never about how much you give, it’s just that you do.
One study found that giving just $5 gave non-trivial gains in happiness over a given day, and another confirmed that small acts of kindness often produce a greater increase in happiness than larger ones.
The reason is because when we have a goal as broad as ‘make someone happy’ the result we achieve oftens falls short of what we expect, and requires a lot of effort.
However, when participants are asked to maintain the goal of simply ‘making someone smile’ they found they were able to achieve this goal easier, therefore bridging the gap between expectation and result, leading to a greater increase in personal happiness.
It doesn’t take much to make someone smile, but it can be very subjective what can make another person ‘happy’ per se.
Here is what my research into this topic has found will yield the greatest result:
i) Give to someone you personally know.
ii) Be present when you are giving it to them, whether it’s buying them a coffee, or lending them a fiver.
iii) Be present when the recipient benefits from your gift.
Giving to people you do not know will contribute significantly to your well-being. However, study after study has found when you are helping those you know, the personal connection you have to the recipient creates a larger increase in happiness for the giver than when giving to a person or organisation which you do not have a personal connection with.
3. Saying ‘thank you’
Gratitude is one of the most effective ways to live a more joyous life. It’s effective at preventing us from taking things for granted, which is one of the main reasons most of humanity continue to run on the hedonic treadmill.
I haven’t come across many things that show such an enormous variety of benefits as the practice of gratitude does.
From increased person well-being to better social skills, increased income, drastically improved health, better sleep…. The list is endless.
One study asked participants to write down 3 things that ‘went well’ that day, for 1 week in total. They found that the participants who did this all reported an increase in happiness, not only after the 1 week, but even after 6 MONTHS.
Recommendations for the practice of gratitude:
i) Write down 3 things you are thankful for, or that went well today.
ii) Write these 3 things down on paper first thing in the morning, or last thing at night before going to sleep.
iii) Make it a habit, as you would brush your teeth or shower.
iv) Do it consistently for at least 14 days.
v) Not to state the obvious, but write things you are truly thankful for and feel deeply appreciative of.
4. Listening to someones’ worries
As simple as it sounds, the notion of simply ‘being there’ for someone is incredibly powerful.
It’s not always about trying to figure out a solution either. Just being present and listening to someone who has a concern or is going through a tough time at the moment can completely alter that person’s day.
Scientific research has shown this to be enormously effective in helping to reduce stress, and it doesn’t take anything at all from you, other than your time.
For the people in our lives who have been there for us in the past, giving up some our time is the least we can do, and is a great sign of friendship.
In addition, a study confirmed that those who discussed topics of a ‘deeper’ nature as opposed to superficial topics experience more happiness.
You can help someone greatly in this way by:
i) Being physically present with them, not just on the phone.
ii) Having absolutely no distractions or possible distractions around you.
iii) Listen first, then discuss. Do not try to avoid the topic or interrupt the person.
iv) Ensure the person knows their feelings are 100% valid, and a solution can be found.
All in all
As you can see, acts of kindness does not have to involve starting a charity, pledging $100 million to a cause or working in politics.
A happier world will come from each individual person living a happier life. By doing some very simple things consistently, we can make others happy, and in turn keep the smile on our faces too.