The Ultimate Happiness Formula (Kindness + Novelty)

In a large hospital setting, a young outpatient stopped me in the corridor the other day and asked if I could tell him how to find the EXIT that led to the parking lot where his car was parked. Without thinking twice I said “Sure, let me walk you there.”

He looked at me like he hadn’t heard correctly. “But you were going in the opposite direction” 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.”

“Come on,” I said, smiling, doing a 180-degree turn. “I could use the extra exercise!”

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, this brave young veteran had relayed the story of his injury, told me about his new car, the joy he took in being a new Dad and professed he was looking forward to the springtime thaw so he could garden again. 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.

I had never really reflected on how a simple good deed could have such a powerful effect on the person you help. But the truth is, volunteering to help someone else has an even more important effect on the do-er of the kind act.

I knew that various studies in my field of psychology have positively correlated performing kind acts (or what we call “prosocial behaviors”) with enhanced life satisfaction (i.e. happiness). This holds true for all ages. 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. I would like to propose something different: PLANNED acts of kindness; not only because we can’t always depend on our head Muse to give us a hint, but because varying the kinds of good deeds we do has a more lasting impact on our personal happiness.

One study showed that participants who were asked to perform 5 kind acts in one day had a larger increase in happiness than those who performed 5 kind acts over the course of one week.

How could this be?

Adaptation

It is like walking into someone’s kitchen when they are sautéing onions: You are overpowered with the aroma initially, but after a few minutes, you hardly know it is there. That is sensory adaptation, but 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.

Enter the powerful effect of NOVELTY (or newness). To the participants who performed the 5 acts of kindness in one day, their actions were new, or novel, therefore the kind acts hadn’t become “old hat” routine, as it had with those who were asked to perform the kind acts every day.

Does this mean that:

  1. We should do kind acts less frequently so they don’t lose their effect?, or
  2. Should we plan to do DIFFERENT kind acts more frequently as a way to achieve long-lasting happiness?

THE ANSWER IS “B”

Let me explain:

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 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 of the experimental groups experienced a significant increase in life satisfaction as compared with the control condition, which did not.

Given that both acts of kindness, AND doing new things can be a ticket to greater happiness, combining these two concepts can be an unbeatable formula for making you—and the world around you—a happier, brighter place.

Here’s how to get started on your own kindness-to-happiness project:

Grab a pencil and paper when you get a few moments and start a KINDNESS list. Jot down as many ways to help someone else as you can think of. No numbers on the list, because you will add to it every day as you come up with additional ways to practice kindness. The 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. Then glance at this list each day. And get out there and do something kind and new every day to put a smile on someone’s face.

Examples of Kindness Acts:

  • Show (not tell) someone how to get to an exit when they are lost
  • Bring a meal or a tray of fruit to a sick friend
  • Order a friend a book on Amazon that you think they’d love
  • Pay the next car’s bill at the Donut Drive-in
  • Offer your store coupons or coins to the person behind you
  • Send someone the announcement of an event or conference they might like
  • Shovel a older neighbor’s driveway when it snows
  • Help someone on with their coat when you see them struggling
  • Buy a sandwich and give it to the homeless person standing out front
  • Listen, when you see someone needs to talk something out
  • Smile and say GOOD-MORNING, instead of keeping your eyes glued to your smart phone.

In a world where self-preoccupation is commonplace, YOU can be a unique light that shines kindness all around you. And you’ll be a whole lot happier for doing it, too.

Would you share YOUR ideas for acts of kindness with my readers—so we can all add them to our list, too?  I’d love to hear your stories!

Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and especially for those of you who “like”, “share” on your social media, and subscribe to my email list. Mille grazie!

References:

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

Do You Use Make-Up to Enhance Or Hide?

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

Back in the late 60’s, my M.O. included large hoop earrings, ironed hair, and a splash of Oh de London, before leaving the house with my transistor radio to do the beach strut. I thought I looked pretty dam good. That is, until one particular girl –Yvonne–caused all the boys in our summer neighborhood fall all over themselves whenever she walked by. What the heck did she have that I didn’t? Well, frankly quite a bit, but what it really boiled down to was her— LIPSTICK. Yes, it was the lightest of pink, almost pearlescent. And rumor had it, that it was peppermint! , I never heard one comment about her knockout bikini figure, her large, hypnotic eyes, or her gorgeous dark curly hair. NO. It was all about that lipstick. Not that any of the boys had actually kissed her but that little tube of tint had the capacity to make every boy at least dream of what it would be like to steal a kiss from the alluring girl with peppermint- coated lips.

That was my first observation about the power of makeup to create a perception of beauty— dating back the time of Cleopatra, who was adored for her intriguing painted eyes, long blackened eyelashes, and rose colored lips and cheeks (made possible by red ochre, a type of iron-enriched clay).

The majority of research studies support the fact that women who use makeup are perceived to be more attractive than those who don’t. In one study, women were professionally made up with customized products and application thought to best enhance the specific individual’s features. Then the “judges”, male and female, would look at the same woman’s face in 5 conditions: a) no makeup; b) foundation only; c) eye make-up only, d) lipstick only; and e) full facial make-up (with all of the above). Female judges thought the eye makeup alone condition was most attractive, while the male judges rated eye makeup and foundation to be the most attractive. None of the judges chose the “no makeup” condition as being most attractive.

Personally, I enjoy the “artistry” involved in using makeup, although the older I get the less I use. I have no desire to morph into a “whatever happened to Baby Jane” version of myself; but I do think a little color here and there enhances my current-aged self. Self-adornment can be a reflection of self-respect, although many women bypass make up altogether—and there is no problem whatsoever with their self-esteem. Some older women, however, feel they MUST use makeup or cosmetic procedures to hide their age, because of the consequences of living in a youth-worshiping culture, where they may face age discrimination on the job, or become “invisible” when trying to relate to others.

In fact when women 50-70 years old were interviewed about their reasons for engaging in “beauty work”, to enhance their appearance (e.g., hair dye, makeup, cosmetic surgery, and non-surgical procedures); their explanations included the following:

  • To fight against the invisibility of aging
  • It was part of a lifelong investment in one’s appearance
  • Desire to attract a romantic partner.
  • Because of employment-related ageism.

If you are among those who use makeup to hide your age, because you are either ashamed of the physical changes of growing older, or fear the societal consequences of being perceived as “old”, let me reassure you, you are not alone. But you alone do have the power to turn others’ perceptions around.  You can start by improving your own body image, and acknowledging your ageless beauty. Have fun with makeup if that is your thing. Wear clothes that make you feel great. Stand up tall and proud. Respect yourself and believe in your unique contribution to this world. And only after all of the above– if you feel like buying a tube of peppermint pink lipstick–You go for it 🙂

Do you enjoy or avoid using makeup? I’d love to read your thoughts, so do leave a comment below! 

References:

Clarke L.H., & Griffin M. (2008). Visible and invisible ageing: beauty work as a response to ageism. Ageing & Society (28). 653-674.

Indianpublicmedia.org “Did Cleopatra Wear Makeup?”

Mulhurn et. al. (2003) Do cosmetics enhance female Caucasian facial attractiveness? International Journal of Cosmetic Science (25) 199-205

 

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

The Secret to Getting More Resilient With Time

If you don’t care whether or not you are able to get back up on your feet in the aftermath of life’s blows, then maybe you don’t need to read this article. But the majority of us know that life is a lot happier when we deal with our challenges, then put them behind and turn our focus to what is good about our life NOW.

If you’ve survived past the half-century mark, my guess is that you are no stranger to emotional and physical setbacks. The traumas we go through, as older human beings can make us feel defeated. You may be dealing with weight issues, relationship changes, loss of a loved one, temporary or progressive disease—you name it, we’ve been through it.  It seems we are required to pay a price for the gift of staying on our earthly journey; a journey, which those who are no longer here, would love to still be part of. But that is not to say our challenges are always easy. In fact, many are traumatic. Sure, we can wallow in self-pity and defeat. We can tell our story over and over again and with each telling, re-traumatize ourselves by re-living it. Or we can learn how to build our emotional strength so that we can experience more happiness overall, despite the down times.

One way to do that is what social scientist Albert Bandura called “self-efficacy”. Self-efficacy pertains to how confident you in your capability of affecting the outcome of your challenges. In other words, if you feel confident you can “get through” what ever you are going through, it will affect how motivated you are to succeed, how persistent you are in the face of difficulty, and how resilient you are in the face of setbacks. A strong sense of self-efficacy will increase your confidence, your level of happiness, your sense of accomplishment—and above all, it will help you to be more resilient in the face of these darn age-related challenges. In my opinion self-efficacy is one of the keys to aging happy, as we grow older.

Okay, so how to we acquire this resilience skill?

Lucky for us, Dr. Bandura gave us four ways to build self-efficacy:

  1. Your Mastery Experiences. That means look back on the difficulties you have faced and successfully dealt with in the past. Remind yourself of these and this will give you the confidence to know you can succeed at the challenge at hand.
  2. Vicarious experiences of “social models”. Consider people who know who have faced similar crises, and have come through them stronger than ever. If you don’t know any personally, read inspiring stories of people who have made meaning and derived courage from challenges just like yours.
  3. Social Persuasion. It’s amazing what we can do when we have the right people around us. As it turns out, when the people we surround ourselves with encourage us, and tell us they know we can do it, this revs up our motivation level and we tend to live up to their belief in us.
  4. Keep your Mood Positive. Interpret your emotional and physical signals as energizing, not debilitating, when you face a challenge. Imaging your inner resources gathered together to help you overcome and resolve what you are facing and then take a moment to acknowledge how well you are doing.

If you have a moment I would love it if you would “like” or share this article and also comment below. Let me know what your biggest age-related challenges are, so and what you’d like to read about in future articles. Thank you in advance, and may you continue to grow in happiness!

 

Reference:

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).

 

 

© Raeleen Mautner 2018