"True happiness consists in making others happy", according to an old Hindu proverb. A number of recent studies have confirmed that this is, in fact, true. Not only do the recipients of kindness feel better, but so do those who practice kindness.
Study participants who performed five acts of kindness every week for six weeks saw a significant boost in happiness. Their acts of kindness ranged from simple to significant, and included things like "bought a friend a sundae", "gave a homeless man $20.00", and "let my sister borrow my car". Other studies have found that we get a more significant boost in happiness when we buy something for someone else than when we spend money on ourselves.
Why does kindness increase our happiness? One simple reason is that helping someone in need can increase our awareness and gratitude for our own good fortune. Focusing on kindness to others also draws our attention away from our own problems or worries. Long ago, a famous psychiatrist prescribed two weeks of kindness to others as a sure cure for his depressed patients.
Kindness can also improve our perception of ourselves. Seeing ourselves as altruistic or compassionate may help us feel more confident and purposeful. And, when others are grateful for our kindness, it feels good to be appreciated and to know the impact our small acts can have. Finally, we have learned that altruistic acts light up the same pleasure centers in the brain as food and sex.
Try doing a few kind acts today. Donate blood, help out a friend, or put money in an expired parking meter. Kindness can be as simple as paying a compliment, letting a car into traffic, or holding a door. Opportunities are all around us, if we change our focus to be aware of them. To increase the pleasure you experience from giving sit down for a few minutes at the end of the day, write down what you did, and think about how it felt. Savor the smiles of appreciation you received or just the simple satisfaction of having made a small difference in someone's day.
For mor happiness strategies, please sign up for my "Science of Happiness" group, beginning March 2.