Random Acts of Kindness

Studies have shown that performing random acts of kindness throughout your daily life can increase your happiness.

Short version

Perform five additional random acts of kindness per week, over and above that which you would normally do.

Benefits

  • Increased happiness/well-being
  • Possibly reduced stress and symptoms of depression

Description

If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else.

– Confucius

It’s always difficult to know if people actually said the wise things that are attributed to them online. “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet,” as Abraham Lincoln famously said. But whether he said it or not, the gist of this Confucius quote is basically true – helping other people is not just good for the helpee, it’s good for the helper, too.

A number of studies show that kinder people tend to be happier in general. They experience higher levels of well-being, less stress, and less depressive symptoms.

Other studies have shown that if you take a group of people, and ask them to perform more kind acts in their daily life for a period of time, they report feeling happier at the end of that period than they did at the beginning.

For this purpose, we can define kindness as doing something for, or giving something to other people, without expecting anything in return. You’re purely doing it for the other person’s benefit.

Acts of kindness can vary massively in range and scope. Here are some examples people have used:

  • Buying a drink for someone in the queue of the coffee shop
  • Seeing someone carrying something heavy and offering to help
  • Volunteering at a local charity
  • Letting someone cut in front when driving
  • Highlighting good work that your colleagues have done
  • Paying people a compliment
  • Giving away/donating possessions that other people need more than you
  • Giving up your seat on pubic transport to let someone else sit down
  • Holding doors open for someone
  • Giving food, gloves, a blanket or other useful items to homeless people
  • Proactive networking – introducing people who are in similar lines of work
  • Making an effort to connect with new colleagues or classmates

How to do it

  1. Five times a week, perform a random act of kindness for another person – over and above that which you would normally do. This may be the key – make it a conscious and deliberate kind act.
  2. That’s pretty much it! One study found that people who did the same act of kindness each day didn’t report an increase in happiness after doing this for six weeks. So it might be worth mixing up your kind acts.

Schedule

Studies have tested this for up to six weeks with positive results, but there’s no reason to think the benefits would stop there.

Why it works

Researchers are not completely sure. Here are a few possibilities:

  • The fact that kind acts make us feel better suggests that the brain “rewards” us for doing them. Perhaps this has something to do with our evolutionary past – kind acts could help bonding and cooperation within the tribe, so we evolved a feedback loop that encourages us to keep doing them.
  • They might help us to get out of our own heads and forget about our problems for a moment.
  • They may help us build a more positive image of ourselves, helping us realise that we have some value in society, and can play a role in improving the lives of others – even if only in a small way.
  • Our interactions with others can have a huge impact on how we feel. Kind acts tend to produce positive interactions, so if you do 5 extra kind acts per week, you’ll likely have 5 additional positive experiences that week.

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