The Benefits of Kindness - How Being Kind Can Make You Happier:

Throughout the covid-19 there have been countless stories and highlights of people doing kind and generous things for others. From volunteers and checking on the vulnerable, and from clapping for carers to Captain Tom's incredible NHS fundraising (raising more than £29 million!!), in some ways this crisis has brought out the best in many people.

Such acts of kindness also serve to highlight one of the evidence based things that you can do to boost your own happiness, whether that's during a pandemic or in normal life.

Research shows the link between happiness and kindness, and I'll cover some of the evidence in this article. If you want to feel happier in your life then kindness is certainly something that you should be actively incorporating into your life.

Kindness and Happiness

I've written before about how out instincts seem to tell us that getting more money, more stuff, looking better or getting a better job or grades, will make us happier. We can chase after these things only to find that after a brief time any initial boost from these things leave us feeling just as dissatisfied as we did before. Our misplaced instincts then lead us to strive after the next thing in the ongoing mistaken belief that this next thing will solve everything and lead to perpetual happiness and life satisfaction.

I've also written before about a couple of things that you can do to break this cycle that will likely make you feel happier. Expressing gratitude can help you appreciate the good stuff in life on an ongoing basis, and negative visualisation can help you to want the stuff you have by thinking about how much poorer your life would be without it.

And another thing that all the evidence suggests can help you to feel happier in your life is kindness. Gratitude results when people receive kindness from other people, whereas kindness involves kind behaviour toward other people

Research into positive psychology has found that, compared to less happy people, happy people have better and more satisfying social relationships, more pleasant everyday lives, are more satisfied with life and experience more positive events and emotions in their daily lives. We all want to be happy, we just need to go about finding that level of happiness by doing the right things.

Otake et at (Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention, 2006) had people become more aware of their own kind behavior toward other people every day for one week and to keep track of each and every act of kindness they performed and to report the daily number of these acts. 

"The most important finding reported here is the close association between kindness and happiness in everyday life. Kind people experience more happiness and have happier memories...Simply by counting acts of kindness for one week, people appear to have become happier and more grateful...Thus, our results suggest that happy people are more kind in the first place and that they can become even happier, kinder and more grateful following a simple intervention."

By simply paying more attention to kindness by counting the number of acts of kindness you do, you can become happier and more grateful. Kindness can cause happiness.

Benefits Of Kindness hypnotherapy ely

Now some people suggest that they are naturally more unhappy and pessimistic and that it is a genetic thing. Yet research by Lyubomirsky et al (Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change, 2005) suggest that while genetic factors do play a part, a large component of our own subjective happiness comes from circumstances and from the deliberate actions that we take. This is obviously great news if you want to be happier because it means that with some effort and action you can do things that will increase how happy you feel. And all the evidence suggest that acts of kindness should be one of these things you purposefully notice and do.

Kindness & Spending On Others

As I mentioned above, money (income) doesn't tend to lead to increased happiness, once basic needs are met. However, could spending money on others increase your happiness?

Dunn et al ( Spending money on others promotes happiness, 2008) investigated the impact on happiness of how people spend their money. The found that people who spent more of their income or a bonus on others (e.g. gits for others, donations to charity) reported being much happier. In one of their studies they had people rate their happiness and then they gave them an envelope that contained either $5 or $20 to spend that day. Participants were randomly assigned to either spend it on themselves or to spend it on someone else as a gift. Those who spend the money on others reported greater happiness that those who spent it on themselves. 

Spending just a small amount on someone else can make you happier. "Our work demonstrates that how people choose to spend their money is at least as important as how much money they make" (Dunn et al).

To strengthen this finding, there are also the findings from Aknin et al (Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal, 2013). They found that, based upon data from 136 countries, spending on others was consistently associated with greater happiness. They suggest that it may be a human psychological universal principle that people across the world derive emotional benefits from using their financial resources to help others. 

More Support For Kindness and Happiness 

How about people who are waiting for psychological support and who may be experiencing a degree of distress? Can kindness interventions provide any source of help whilst they wait for treatment?

Kerr et al (Can gratitude and kindness interventions enhance well-being in a clinical sample? 2015) examined the results of a two week gratitude and kindness intervention for outpatients on a waiting list for psychological treatment. 

Participants in the gratitude group were instructed: ‘‘There are many things in our lives, both large and small, that we might be grateful about. Think back over the past day and write down on the lines below up to five things in your life that you are grateful or thankful for’’. These five things could be either things that have occurred during that particular day, or could be more general factors that the participant felt particularly grateful for on that particular day.

Participants in the kindness group were provided with the following instructions: ‘‘Kind acts are behaviours that benefit other people, or make others happy. They usually involve some effort on our part. On the lines below describe as many as five acts that you did for someone else today. Be sure to include at least one kind act that you did intentionally."

Kerr et al found that enhancing gratitude lead to enhanced satisfaction with life and connectedness with others, higher optimism, and reductions in anxiety (which fits with previous research I've covered in previous posts about gratitude). They also found that whilst it would take more than two weeks to cultivate kindness, participants in the kindness intervention displayed greater satisfaction with life, increased optimism and connectedness with others, and lower anxiety.

"Both the gratitude and kindness interventions built a sense of connectedness, enhanced satisfaction with daily life, optimism, and reduced anxiety compared to a placebo condition...These findings demonstrate that gratitude and kindness have a place in clinical practice; not just as end states, but as emotional experiences that can stimulate constructive change. Further, these strategies can serve as useful pre-treatment interventions that may reduce the negative impact of long waiting times before psychological treatment."

So even if you are currently experiencing psychological distress, such as anxiety, deliberately practising kindness and doing kind things towards others can increase your optimism and lower your anxiety.   

And even more recently, Rowland and Curry (A range of kindness activities boost happiness, 2019) investigated the effects of a seven day kindness activities intervention on changes in subjective happiness. Their study was designed to test whether performing different types of kindness activities had differential effects on happiness.

They found that performing kindness activities for seven days increases your happiness. In addition, they found that the more kinds acts you do, the happier you will be. This holds true whether your acts of kindness are towards strong social ties (such as family and friends), weak ties (such as strangers and people you hardly know) or from observing acts of kindness. They all have equally positive effects on your happiness. 

"The results indicate that performing kindness activities for 7 days increases happiness. Additionally, the more kindness activities that one does, the greater the increase in happiness."

All of the evidence above points to one clear conclusion: if you want to be happier then you should work on being kind to others. Paying attention and counting the kind acts you do, as well as just making small gifts to others, can help you to be happier. By linking gratitude practices to kindness practices, you will find yourself feeling happier, experiencing more of a sense of well being and life satisfaction, and experiencing less distress such as anxiety.

Perhaps even better, the research shows that acts of kindness themselves are the most important thing for happiness rather than who you perform those acts for. And the more acts of kindness you do, the happier you will likely feel.

The evidence is strong, so do kind acts and you will be happier.

To your happiness,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket

 

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References

Aknin, L.B., Barrington-Leigh, C.P., Dunn, E.W., Helliwell, J.F., Burns, J., Biswas-Diener, R., Kemeza, I., Nyende, P., Ashton-James, C.E. and Norton, M.I., 2013. Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), p.635.

Dunn, E.W., Aknin, L.B. and Norton, M.I., 2008. Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319(5870), pp.1687-1688.

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K.M. and Schkade, D., 2005. Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of general psychology, 9(2), pp.111-131.

Kerr, S.L., O’Donovan, A. and Pepping, C.A., 2015. Can gratitude and kindness interventions enhance well-being in a clinical sample?. Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(1), pp.17-36.

Otake, K., Shimai, S., Tanaka-Matsumi, J., Otsui, K. and Fredrickson, B.L., 2006. Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention. Journal of happiness studies, 7(3), pp.361-375.

Rowland, L. and Curry, O.S., 2019. A range of kindness activities boost happiness. The Journal of social psychology, 159(3), pp.340-343.