People who are kind and generous have a greater sense of wellbeing, more positive emotions, better mental and physical health and greater life satisfaction1.
This is regardless of external circumstances such as wealth, health and work situation. In fact, your happiness can be better enhanced by changing a few activities that you choose rather than by a change in circumstance. That means that being kind to people can be better for your health and wellbeing than winning the lottery.
Are people happier because they are grateful and kind? Or are they grateful and kind because they are happier? We don’t know. What we do know is people who engage in acts of kindness experience a surge in happiness and in their sense of wellbeing. It is equally true that happy people tend to perform more acts of kindness2. Kindness can be divided into three factors3.
Kind people can be distinguished from others in that they:
- Want to be kind
- Notice when others are kind to them
- Are more likely to do kind things.
Studies3 show that happy people reported higher scores on all three aspects of kindness and that kind people reported greater levels of happiness and more happy memories. Many studies have confirmed a close relationship between kindness, gratitude, and happiness. There is also a well-documented link between happiness, life satisfaction, and mental and physical health4.
Recipients of kindness experience benefits to their physical and mental health, including increases in their sense of well-being. But giving help will do you more good than receiving it4. The more often you are kind and the greater the magnitude of your kindness the greater will be your happiness, sense of wellbeing, life satisfaction and mental and physical health5.
Kindness can be contagious
People observing others being kind are more likely to be kind themselves. Researchers6 set up a situation where people observed others donating to charity (and a control situation where they were not). Those observing others donating to charity were more likely to donate themselves. In another study, people observing someone helping another person to change a flat tyre were more likely to stop to help someone in the same predicament.
Acts of kindness don’t have to be magnificent gestures
Small things can make a big difference: letting someone go before you on the road; giving up your seat on public transport for a parent with an infant; caring for a neighbour’s plants while they are unwell, donating unwanted items to a charity and taking the time to ask your colleague how they are coping. Acts of kindness can be a significant gift such as donating bone marrow to a family member or performing a signal service to a friend (or stranger) in need. Remember, try different acts of kindness and do as many in a day as you can.
At the end of each day, take note of all the kind things you’ve done: big and small.
Can you notice the difference you experience in your own happiness?
1. Dossett, T. H. (2011). The influence of the character strengths of gratitude and kindness on subjective well-being (Order No. 3480419)
2. Post, S. G. (2005). Altruism, happiness, and health: It's good to be good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12, 66-77
3. Otake, K., Shimai, S., Tanaka-Matsumi, J., Otsui, K., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2006). Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(3), 361–375. doi:10.1007/s10902-005-3650-z
4. Kerr, S. L., O'donovan, A., & Pepping, C. A. (2015). Can gratitude and kindness interventions enhance well-being in a clinical sample? Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(1), 17-36. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10902-013-9492-1
5. Buchanan, K. E., & Bardi, A. (2010). Acts of kindness and acts of novelty affect life satisfaction. The Journal of Social Psychology, 150(3), 235-7. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/741064038?accountid=178506
6. Bryan, J.H. and Test, M.A. (1967), "Models and helping: naturalistic studies in aiding behavior", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 6 No. 4, pp. 400-7.