A scientifically proven way to be happier
The search for happiness is one of the defining characteristics of humanity. (I mean, a literal search for “How to be happier” on Google brings up about 181,000,000 results.) What makes it so fascinating to me is that I believe it’s a totally subjective question, as the criteria for happiness are different for every one of us. The other reason it fascinates me is because ‘how to be happier’ is both the most complex question in the universe and at the same time the most simple.
Let me explain
First of all I think the semantics are important. There is a big difference between tying to be happier, and trying to achieve happiness. One is a journey and process, the other some ideal state of being that I really don’t think is achieveable. And while the question ‘How can I be happier’ can still potentially lead us into a lifetime of questioning, pondering, quantifying, philosophising and quite possibly having a weekly existential crisis (no….just me?), I believe that like many things in life the best way to approach it is with one tiny movement forward at a time. If you look at striving for happiness that way - as a series of micro-experiments - it is actually quite easy to find ways to improve your happiness without feeling totally overwhelmed! And so far, one of the few ways I know of that can guarantee increased happiness is in fact also backed 100% by science. I’m talking about kindness.
The Science Bit
The incredibly simple truth that we often forget about kindness is that when we actively choose to carry out an act of kindness, it not only brings a little more happiness to someone else, but it brings us happiness too! In fact, kindness has a biochemical effect - that feel-good-feeling you get isn’t just an emotional response. Being kind actually has an effect on hormones in our body that are all connected to our feelings of wellbeing and mood.
The main player in all of this is oxytocin - also known as “The Love Hormone”
Interestingly though, studies have shown that acts of kindness are also linked to the release of dopamine (the feel-good hormone that gives us a tiny feeling of euphoria) as well as serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps the brain manage our mood. So kindness is scientifically proven to help improve our feeling of happiness. This is very similar in effect to how gratitude works in our brain, and just like gratitude the best way to ensure a long-lasting positive effect is to make kindness a habit. And let’s be honest - it’s a habit with no downsides. it helps us AND others, and can be practiced with minimal effort - why wouldn’t we!? (Also - no gym shorts or leggings needed :oP)
In the moment
Being kind does not have to involve being generous with money or gifts. It’s often the simplest kindness that has the most effect - like giving up your time when a friend needs someone to talk to; waving back at a young child in the car next to you; smiling and asking a checkout clerk how their day is going or even just telling a friend or colleague how great they look today.
While being kind is not something you can force someone to do, it is something that we often need to be reminded of. I think sometimes we miss small opportunities to be kind because of the speed at which we all live our lives, and intentionally focussing on trying to be kind and acting on gestures of kindness has the added effect of helping us slow down for a few seconds and truly be in the moment.
The other thing I personally find is that being kind to a stranger can feel pretty daunting some days! So with that in mind, I have put together a list of some very easy ways to increase your daily quota of kindness without it feeling like yet another thing on the to-do list - and some of which you don’t even have to leave the house to do!
20 really simple gestures of kindness to create and spread happiness
- Actually tell someone how much they mean to you.
- Paypal someone enough for their morning coffee with a note that says something like “I just thought I’d buy you a coffee to say I’m thinking of you.”
- Buy a card (or even better, make a card), hand write a short message, and mail it to someone just to tell them you think they’re great, or that you value their friendship.
- Support your favourite activist - especially those who give much of their time and content for free - by donating to their patreon, or just sending them a direct message saying how much you appreciate their work.
- Next time you go for a walk on the beach or anywhere out and about, take a carrier bag and pick up any litter you see along your walk to deposit in a bin later.
- Leave a post-it note that says “You are wonderful and you are loved” somewhere a stranger can find it by accident. (And maybe add a note asking them to pass it on)
- Stop and actually tell a busker how much you love their playing/performance.
- Tell your local friendly barrista/server how much you appreciate them, and that they brighten your day. (And not just because they give you caffeine!)
- Take the time to help someone carry a heavy suitcase or stroller up the stairs.
- Give up your seat on public transport to someone who needs it more than you do.
- Tell a stranger that you love their style.
- Buy a small stuffed animal or toy. Attach a note saying: “You are very brave, and very special.” Drop it off at the children’s ward of your local hospital.
- Put a surprise love note in your partner/child//loved one’s jacket or bag.
- Buy someone in need some food, or donate food to a shelter/food bank.
- Treat yourself to a tea/coffee/cocktail at a pricey cafe. Take a book and just enjoy yourself guilt-free for an hour. (Self-kindness counts!)
- Donate your old towels or blankets to an animal shelter.
- Send a hand-written voucher for ‘One Awesome Hug’ to the person of your choice.
- If you’ve had really great service in a shop or restaurant, before you leave ask to speak to the manager and tell them how amazing their employees have been and that you’ll be back because of them.
- Stop and say thank you to a nurse, serviceman, teacher, cleaner, or a person in any other under-appreciated role.
- Support local artists or independent shops by buying your gifts from them - and make sure you let them know how much you love what they provide.
Think about how much better your whole day is when someone treats you with kindness. Think about how good you feel when it’s you committing the act of kindness. Now imagine what a difference it could make to the world if that happened every day to everyone. I know it sounds trite and silly - but it really could change the world, couldn’t it? Well, at the very least I know it can improve one person’s day, with minimal effort - and that’s a pretty good deal.
A micro-experiment for you
I’d like to ask you to carry out a micro-experiment with me: Can you find the time and energy to carry out just one random act of kindness this week? Stick a reminder in your calendar or notebook (or a post-it note on the mirror) to prompt you, and then I would really love it if you would let me know what it was, and how it made you feel. I’ve made it really easy - just click the button below to answer two quick questions. I’ll check in half-way through the week to remind you. ;o). Remember, the best way to make the happiness effect of kindness long-lasting is for kindness to become a habit.
I’m excited to hear from you. :). And remember, if someone is kind to you - pay it forward.
THE KINTSUGI JOURNAL
Kintsugi: The Japanese art of repairing what is broken or damaged with pure gold resin. A philosophical approach that teaches us to treat our flaws and experience as precious parts of us which make us more beautiful and unique, rather than striving for some perceived perfection.
Every Monday I will drop into your inbox to share new writing, links and resources from my own experience. I believe in sharing honest, helpful content that will help you build a more intentional business & life.