Small gestures and acts of kindness send powerful messages that connect us with others and give meaning to our daily lives.
Kindness makes both giver and receiver happier. Studies show that simply by counting one’s own acts of kindness for one week our subjective happiness is increased. People who already feel happy become more kind and grateful through counting kindnesses interventions. Happy people accrue more and better quality positive memories in their daily lives.
Acts of kindness give us stories to tell to help us and others savour happy times. They also improve our self-image.
Practicing acts of kindness
So how do we cultivate kindness, in ourselves and the people we encounter?
While random acts of kindness are great there are a few rules to making kind acts really count. Here are four simple actions you can follow.
Action 1: Do something kind for someone you love.
Kindness can be a day-to-day investment that bonds relationships. Make sure you give freely and autonomously. Helping behaviour that feels burdensome or inhibits your own goals won’t increase happiness, even though it might remain the right thing to do. Something as simple as washing the dishes when your partner or friend has had a hard day at work honours your connection and shows you value their wellbeing.
Action 2: Do something kind that expresses your strengths.
If you are a good organiser, volunteer your skills to help plan events for a local community group. If creativity is a strength, offering to help a friend design a new business card will gratify you both. A leader who excels at strategic thinking may give timely advice to a colleague starting out on a new venture.
Action 3: Do something kind that is unexpected.
Capitalise on the urge to do good in the moment. Going out of your way to help a stranger who has lost their keys may only take a few moments of your time; to the other person it could make the difference between feeling alone and on the verge of tears to feeling supported and energised.
Action 4: Do five different kind things in one day.
Researchers have found that the frequency of kind acts does not impact happiness; variety does. People who don’t vary kind acts actually show a decrease in happiness over time. The kind act eventually receives less thanks and may even seem like a duty, chore or box-ticking exercise. A creative approach to kindness is far more sustaining and keeps things fresh and interesting.
Dedicate a day to kindness and challenge yourself to come up with five novel actions to surprise yourself and others.
Lyubomirsky, S (2007). The How of Happiness: A practical guide to getting the life you want. London: Sphere.
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