Literature, religions and fairy tales all trumpet the message that kindness will change our lives for the better—think of a transformed Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. But is this message just a sugar-coated platitude, or can altruism really create lasting satisfaction?
Last year, Stanford University psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky decided to put the kindness-fulfillment connection to the test. She asked students to carry out five weekly “random acts of kindness” of their choice, anything from buying a Big Mac for a homeless person to helping a younger sibling with schoolwork.
Her results indicate the Scrooge effect is no myth. The students reported higher levels of happiness than a control group, with students who performed all five kind acts in one day reaping the biggest rewards by the end of the six-week study period. Previous studies have found that altruistic people tend to be happy, but Lyubomirsky’s was the first to establish that good deeds are actually the direct cause of an increase in well-being.
Why is being generous such a mood-booster? While hard-and-fast answers are elusive, the main reason is that it gives people a strong sense they’re doing something that matters. “There are a lot of positive social consequences to being kind—other people appreciate you, they’re grateful and they might reciprocate,” Lyubomirsky says. All of these responses, she adds, are likely to make your happiness cup run over. In another study, she found that people who felt most strongly that others appreciated their efforts reported the biggest boost.
Need a Nudge?
Try one of these small acts to start your own kindness campaign:
- Send a card to friend “just because.”
- Buy the person inline behind you their coffee.
- Call or visit an older family member.
- Bake cookies for a neighbor.
- Give an extra-large tip.
Excerpt from: Pay It Forward. Random acts of kindness really do make you feel happier and in control.
By Elizabeth Svoboda, published on July 01, 2006
The article can be read in its entirety at http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200607/pay-it-forward