Is it truly better to give than receive? The verdict’s still out, but one thing is certain: it is great to give! At least, many positive psychology researchers are finding kindness and general pro-social behaviors to increase well-being. Kindness interventions show that happiness can be increased by doing random acts of kindness for others.
In one ten-week experiment, participants were invited to regularly practice random acts of kindness (Boehm, Lyubomirsky, & Sheldon, 2008). Engaging in kind acts (e.g., 12 holding the door open for a stranger or doing a roommate’s dishes) was thought to impact happiness for a variety of reasons, including bolstered self-regard, positive social interactions, and charitable feelings towards others and the community at large. In this study, happiness was measured at baseline, mid-intervention, immediately post-intervention, and one month later. Additionally, two variables were manipulated: 1) the frequency with which participants practiced acts of kindness (either three or nine times each week) and 2) the variety with which participants practiced acts of kindness (either varying their kind acts or repeating the same acts weekly). Finally, a control group merely listed events from the past week.
Interestingly, the frequency with which kind acts were performed did not affect well-being. The variety of the kind acts, however, influenced the extent to which participants became happier. Those who were asked to perform a wide variety of kind acts revealed an upward trajectory for happiness, even through the 1-month follow-up. By contrast, the control group showed no changes in their happiness throughout the 14 weeks of the study, and those not given the opportunity to vary their kind acts actually became less happy midway through the intervention, before eventually rebounding to their baseline happiness level at the follow-up assessment.
In another kindness intervention, students were asked to perform five acts of kindness per week over the course of six weeks, and those five acts had to be done either within a single day (e.g., all on Sunday) or across the week (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, et al., 2005). In this study, happiness levels increased for students performing acts of kindness, but only for those who performed all of their kind acts in a single day. It was theorized by the authors that when kind acts were spread throughout the week, the effect of each kind act was dispersed, such that participants did not differentiate between their normal behavior and the kindnesses prompted by this intervention. Taken together, these two kindness interventions suggest that not only can happiness be boosted by behavioral intentional activities, but that both the timing and variety of performing such intentional activities significantly moderates their impact on well-being.
Not only is doing kind acts important for well-being, but counting the kindnesses one already offers (in the way one may count blessings) also increases happiness. Otake et al. (2006), found that happy people (determined by a median-split) are more motivated to do kind acts and recognize them, have more happy memories in number and quality, become happier through kindness and are more grateful. Additionally, they perform more acts of kindness during the intervention. One could think of this as positive reinforcement. Some theorized reasons unhappy people did not benefit in this way include depression influencing memories and motivation and/or the possibility of these people not actually performing kind acts in the first place. One recommendation for this group may be to engage in a Lyubomirskian intervention, as mentioned in the prior paragraphs!
Not only does doing varied acts of kindness increase happiness, but spending money on others promotes happiness as well. This may be surprising given how much we covet our assets and can even find happiness in being financially stable. While money can buy happiness (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2002), when a person thinks too much about their wealth (think of a miser as the extreme [or Scrooge during this holiday season]), they are less likely to help acquaintances, to donate to charity or to choose to spend time with others (Vohs, Mead & Goode, 2006). Still, spending more of one’s income on others predicts greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). In an experimental setting, those who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves (Dunn, Aknin & Norton, 2008).
In a nutshell, do good things for others and do it with variety. I would recommend buying lots for others, but during this recession, I’m going to stick with the variety recommendation for now. And because it’s hard to think up these things on one’s own, here’s an abbreviated list written by Joanathan Haidt:
==> · Be a listening ear to a friend. Ask your friend how her day was and actually listen and respond to her before describing your own day.
==> · Flu season is upon us. Help a friend or neighbor who is ill by delivering chicken soup, doing the laundry, or walking the dog.
==> · Give someone else the gift of time-Do something for someone else that requires time and effort on your part.
==> · The next time someone admires something of yours and you can afford to do without it, give it away.
==> · Volunteer in your community.
==> · One day each week, “commit” five random acts of kindness. And, when possible, make them anonymous.
Boehm, J. K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Does happiness lead to career success? Journal of Career Assessment, 16, 101-116.
Dunn, E.W., Aknin, L.B., & Norton, M.I. Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness. Science, 319, 1687-1688.
Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803-855.
Otake, K., Shimai, S., & Tanaka-Matsumi, J. (2006). Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindness intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 361–375.
When I first saw the French movie “Le Fabuleux Destin Le Amelie Poulain,” I am instantly astonished. It maybe for the fact that the main actress (Audrew Tautou) gave justice to the character so much that I can’t think of anyone else playing the role; she’s also cute.The story is quite simple. She accidentally discovered a small tin box of childhood memorabilia in her apartment. After asking her neighbors, she found out that the box is hidden by a boy who lived in her apartment years ago. Realizing it is important to the boy – now an old man – she embarked on a quest to find him.
With the help of her neighbor, she successfully found the person. Preferring to be anonymous, she put the box on an empty telephone booth and rings the number when the person passed by it. He picked up the phone and saw the box. He was moved to tears instantly. Amelie never stopped there, she followed the man and observed him secretly. She saw the positive effect she had on him. In that moment, she devoted her life bringing happiness to others. To make the story short, she became some sort of a “happiness-agent,” bringing happiness to others by helping them and thereby making her happier in the process. Her actions dramatically changed her life forever.
Amelie had altruism, or showing unselfish concern for the welfare of others. It is the motivation in a person to help others by doing good things without expecting any kind of reward.
I’m sure we can also emulate what Amelie did. Simple acts of kindness to someone is very easy to do and takes away little or no resources. By helping others, we can appreciate what we have and realize that we are more fortunate than others. Mother Theresa, a Nobel laureate and a humanitarian has a say on this:
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one. ” -Mother Theresa.
After all, helping others is not about the amount or volume, it is the compassion we share with others. Happiness cannot be extracted from the act of kindness if we give more than we desire to.
There is a story in the Bible about a poor woman who gave her last money as an offering to God. She gave it with all her heart yet she felt happier and blessed than others who give more but with an intention of being seen as socially wealthy. If we apply it in our daily lives, a small act of kindness like helping a elder cross the street (just like what Amelie did) makes both the giver and taker happy. The elder has difficulty crossing the road, one wrong move can send him to his death, no matter how small it is, someone helping him makes difference between life an death. It may not be big for the helper but for the one helped, it is some kind of a gift from above.
On the other hand, there are several studies attesting having a helping attitude prolongs life. Scientists, psychologist and philosophers have been debating on this topic for several years but the bottom line is having a generous helping hand is beneficial to one’s and others happiness.
“A good exercise for the heart is bending down and helping someone to get up.” -Proverbs
When was the last time you did an act of kindness to someone you didn’t know? It felt good, isn’t. Majority of us nowadays take this thing for granted. We have a busylifestyle or we are just simply shy or afraid of other people’s judging that we seldom do an act of simple kindness.
There is this story from modern-day Malaysia, told from the point of view of a father, that narrates how a very simple event can affect his son’s happiness, and his perspective in life also.
It is about his son, requested by the owner of the restaurant he frequently dines, to burn in a CD a compilation of songs in which he will pay for it. The son gladly accepted the offer and burned the CD.
Anyway, the story is best experienced in from the perspective of the father. You can read the story below.
All I can say, simple things makes us happy!
Kindness begets happiness
TH GAP: BY JMC
OUR children are what we make of them. An incident with my 17-year-old son made me realise how little things that we often take for granted can have a profound effect on the young minds of our children.
It also reminded me that life is a continuous process of learning in which everyone we come across, regardless of whether that person is small or big, young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, friend or foe plays an important role. We have much to learn from every one of them.
My son, a college student, frequents a small restaurant for his meals. One day the owner of the restaurant asked him whether he knew how to download and burn some songs onto a CD.
When my son admitted he knew, the gentleman requested him to burn some of his favourite songs for him. He said he would pay for it.
So my son went back and did the job. He then called me to find out how much he should charge the man for the CD.
I advised him not to charge anything as it was the first time the man had asked for such help.
The next day, my son handed over the CD to the restaurant owner. He refused to accept any payment despite some coaxing. The man thanked him and my son left.
A few days later my son went back to the restaurant to have a meal. He ordered the usual food. While he was having his meal a waiter sent him a large glass of fruit juice with the compliments of his boss.
My son was so surprised and he happily thanked him. When he went to pay for his meal, the boss refused to accept payment, saying that his lunch treat was in appreciation for the CD earlier.
My son was so happy that he immediately called me to tell me what had happened. I could sense the joy in his voice when he said, “I had free lunch; the restaurant owner didn’t take my money because I burnt the CD for free.”
I could not believe that a small deed like that could bring him so much happiness. Without realising it, I had taught my son a very important lesson in life, “Kindness brings happiness”.
If he had collected a few ringgit for the CD from the restaurant owner, he would not have got the treat, and my son would not have experienced the joy of his kind act.
Forgoing a ringgit brought him the happiness that we often cannot obtain with thousands of ringgit. This may be an insignificant incident, it may not guarantee that my son will grow up to be a good person, but it made me aware that as parents, we have a very important role in shaping the character of our children.
This can most effectively be done by our own examples, not preaching. It is in little things that we can guide them to be kind, considerate and helpful to those with whom they come into contact. It is in little things that we can instil the good values and morality that are so deficient in our society today.
In a world that is solely driven by materialism and consumerism, and where stiff and unhealthy competition in the norm, instilling good values in our children would go a long way to make the world a better place for all.
In a multi-racial country like ours, it would particularly contribute to ethnic tolerance and integration which is so badly needed.