People who have a greater interest in helping people or intentions to perform altruistic behaviors are more likely to rate themselves as happy. So if you want to become a happier person, performing acts of kindness is a good starting point. The variety of the acts is more important than the frequency though. In a study students performed acts of kindness over the course of 10 weeks. They did either three or nine acts of kindness per week, and performed either different ones or they repeated the same one. Students who varied their acts of kindness showed an increase in happiness directly after the research and up to one month later. But even just counting your random acts of kindness over the course of a week will make you happier.
Besides acting kind, simply witnessing kindness transforms you for the better as well. Jonathan Haidt studied why and how human beings are so powerfully affected by the sight of a stranger helping another stranger, which he calls ‘elevation’: “I have deﬁned elevation as a warm, uplifting feeling that people experience when they see unexpected acts of human goodness, kindness, courage, or compassion. It makes a person want to help others and to become a better person himself or herself.”
So acts of kindness positively affect people: not just the person you are helping, not just you for becoming a happier person, but also witnesses of the act because they will want to become a better person.
This also implies that if you want to become a kinder person, exposing yourself to altruistic people, blogs and documentaries will help you. In one of Haidt’s studies, participants watched a documentary of mother Theresa. Afterwards they reported to feel “more loving and inspired, they more strongly wanted to help and afﬁliate with others, and they were more likely to actually volunteer to work at a humanitarian charity organization.” We all know this effect from experience. You might be brought by tears by witnessing a beautiful altruistic deed, watch an inspiring Youtube-video and feel hopeful and acting joyful afterwards, or you want to get involved after listening to a heroic story.
So whether your motivation to be kind may be either to help other people, to feel happier yourself or to inspire others, it will have all three effects. If you choose to be kind on a daily base, imagine the effect this will have on you and the world around you! Exposing yourself to kindness is a terrific thing to do, but don’t let it end there.
Be that person who goes out into the world to spread hope. Be a spark to your dear surroundings. Be the person that makes others cry, in the best possible way.
– Kennon M. Sheldon & Sonja Lyubomirsky, “Achieving Sustainable New Happiness: Prospects, Practices, and Prescriptions”
– Sonja Lyubomirsky & Matthew D. Della Porta, “Boosting Happiness, Buttressing Resilience: Results from Cognitive and Behavioral Interventions”
– Jonathan Haidt, “Wired to be inspired“