Most of us would agree that worthy personal goals include reducing tension and anxiety, finding contentment and increasing our overall level of happiness.
There seems to be a common trait among those who have reached these goals.
Whenever I meet someone, I try to work this question into the conversation:
Tell me something about yourself that gives you satisfaction.
The range of responses is broad, but there’s one, overriding theme: Kindness abounds.
One woman said she taught disabled children how to ski. Others discussed their work with different charities. An investment advisor who limited her practice to women “in transition” talked about the satisfaction she derived from helping clients when they are the most vulnerable.
I’ve also heard stories about adoptions of orphans from impoverished countries, raising funds to provide shoes to underprivileged children, and mentoring abused and neglected children.
These stories were inspiring. Is it possible that deriving happiness from simply being kind has a basis in science?
Studies validate the benefit of kindness
One study asked participants to take a survey measuring their life satisfaction. Then they divided the participants into three groups. One was told to perform a daily act of kindness for the next ten days. The second group was told to engage in a new activity each day and the third group was given no instructions.
Groups 1 and 2 experienced an increase in happiness. Group 3 did not.
In a second study, researchers found participants who were told to remember the last time they spent money on others were happier than those who recalled spending money on themselves.
In a related experiment, participants who were asked to recall buying something for others were more inclined to spend money given to them by the researchers on others, rather than on themselves.
The lead author of this study summarized the takeaway: The practical implications of this positive feedback loop could be that engaging in one kind deed (e.g., taking your mom to lunch) would make you happier, and the happier you feel, the more likely you are to do another kind act.
Kindness begets more kindness.
Being kind is a rare “win/win” in life. The recipient of your largess clearly benefits, but so do you.