As I walked down the corridor of a large hospital, a young gentleman limped towards me and asked if I knew how to get back to the exit that led to the parking lot where his car was parked. “Sure, let me walk you there,” I said turning around to walk with him.
He looked at me like he hadn’t heard correctly. “But you were going the other way” he remarked, “I don’t want to inconvenience you. You can just point me towards the next corridor and I will try to follow the signs.”
“I could use the extra exercise,” I replied with a smile.
The young gentleman had a knee injury so we had to walk slowly. “I’m really sorry this is taking up so much of your time,” he said as he carefully coordinated his cane with his steps. “Someone asked me if I wanted a wheelchair, but actually, this exercise is good for me, too.”
By the time we made it through 4 corridors to the EXIT, he had relayed the story of his injury, told me about his new car, the joy he took in being a new Dad, and how he loved tending to his garden. When we got to the door I walked him out further to the ramp so he could hold on and make a gradual descent into the parking lot.
“ Gee, I don’t know how to thank you,” he said. “Talking to you really made my day.”
And he was off.
The fact was that seeing him out safely made my day too!
Often, we don’t realize how a simple good deed for someone, not only helps the receiver of that deed, but can also have a powerful effect on the do-er of the kind act.
Studies in the field of psychology have positively correlated the performing of kind acts (or what we call “prosocial behaviors”) with enhanced life satisfaction (i.e. happiness). This holds true for all ages. In short: Kindness makes us feel good about ourselves in addition to bettering someone else’s situation. What a win-win!
Back in the 80’s the buzz phrase “random acts of kindness”, implied that whenever it popped into our heads, we should do something kind for someone else. But how would our lives change for the better if we consciously PLANNED to perform acts of kindness? After all, we can’t always depend on our Muse to give us a hint, and furthermore, the research shows that varying the kinds of good deeds we do has a more lasting impact on our personal happiness.
When we first walk into someone’s kitchen as they are sautéing onions, we are overpowered with the aroma, but after a few minutes, we hardly notice it anymore. That is called “sensory adaptation”. The same thing happens with other systems of the human body and brain. We adapt to what becomes routine, and it has less of an impact on us.
This is where the element of “novelty” or variety plays a role.
Researchers randomly assigned participants ages 18-60 into three groups. They were asked to do one of three things: a) perform kind acts for 10 days; b) perform new (novel) acts of kindness for 10 days; or c) perform no acts and just go about their normal business (control group) for ten days. What they found was that BOTH experimental groups (the first two) experienced a significant increase in life satisfaction as compared with the control condition, which did not.
It seems that performing regular acts of kindness AND varying the types of kind acts one performs can bring greater happiness—both for the doer and the receiver.
A PLAN TO INCREASE YOUR KINDESS REPERTOIRE:
You might find it helpful to start making a KINDNESS list. To do this, jot down as many kind actions as you can think of. You can add to your list every day as you come up with additional ideas. These acts could be big or small. Try to recall some of the nice things you have done for others in the past, or things other people have done for you, and add those acts to the list. Next, glance at this list each day to get ideas of how to spread your kindness around before the day is through. Here are some examples:
In a world where self-preoccupation is commonplace, we can each be a unique light that shines kindness all around us. As a bonus, we become a whole lot happier for doing so.
Have you performed a kind act today? Share your story below!
Buchanan, K.E., & Bardi, A. (2010). Replications and refinements: Acts of kindness and acts of novelty affect life satisfaction. The Journal of Social Psychology 150(3), 235-237
Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K.M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology (9) 111-131
©Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2021