Since the field of positive psychology burst onto the scene in the late 1990’s, there has been an explosion of research into and interest in the concept of “happiness”. It is well documented that “happiness” plays a significant part in a person’s sense of well-being and life satisfaction. One of the core qualities of happiness that has been identified, is the quality of “kindness”.
It would seem, from recent studies, that happiness and kindness have a reciprocal relationship. Happy people tend to demonstrate and acknowledge acts of kindness and, in reverse, being kind to others makes people feel happier.
One study published in the Journal of Social Psychology in 2010, divided 86 participants into 3 groups. One group performed daily acts of kindness for 10 days. A second group carried out some new activity each day for 10 days. The third group were given no particular instructions. A significant and relatively equal increase in the perception of happiness was reported by both the first and second groups .Performing acts of kindness, even for just 10 days, did make people feel happier.
In another study, people reported feeling happier when they intentionally remembered buying gifts for someone else, as compared to when they intentionally remembered buying gifts for themselves.
When we are on the receiving end of acts of kindness, we are more likely to experience gratitude. The emotion of gratitude is another emotion which is reciprocally linked with happiness. The quality of kindness, however, involves giving rather than receiving, and incorporates positive life skills such as empathy and compassion.
Empathy is the ability to be intellectually and emotionally aware of what is going on for someone else. In order to perform an act of kindness, we first have to feel motivated to do so. Experiencing an empathic connection to another person fuels this motivation. On an even deeper level, we are more likely to perform an act of kindness if we feel compassion for another person. Compassion is a form of empathy but has a quality of a greater appreciation of the suffering that someone is going through. Compassion is also associated with a stronger desire to ease the suffering that is being witnessed.
A simple act of kindness can remind us that we are all connected and can foster enhanced social relationships and a greater sense of community. This holds true for both the one “giving” and the one “receiving”. In this way, acts of kindness can have a ripple effect, positively influencing community and society.
Performing acts of kindness and observing acts of kindness teaches us that our behaviour matters. It is a simple and tangible way to demonstrate that small actions we carry out can make a difference in someone else’s world and ,ultimately, our own world. Fostering a positive relationship between actions and outcomes, especially actions that are simple and easily achievable, promotes a sense of individual empowerment. People who witness that their actions can make a difference are more likely to challenge themselves and are more adaptive when responding to change.
In short, the quality of kindness does make a difference and acts of kindness are simple actions we can all do to promote happiness in others and ourselves. As Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama said so eloquently, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”