Pursuit of Happiness: Researchers test the pace of kindness

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Pursuit of Happiness
President Barack Obama meets with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House. White House Photo by Pete Souza, released for public use.

President Barack Obama meets with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House. White House Photo by Pete Souza, released for public use.

We can pursue happiness—one of our inalienable rights—in various ways. Money can buy happiness, as we discussed yesterday. But the science of happiness shows us ways to seek happiness that don’t cost a dime.

Doing acts of kindness is a happiness activity that Sonja Lyubomirsky recommends in her book, The How of Happiness. As she notes, philosophers and religious leaders have always known that being kind to others increases our happiness. “If you want to be happy, practice compassion,” says the XIV Dalai Lama. That’s timeless wisdom.

What’s new is the scientific research that backs up this wisdom—and provides helpful insights into which kindness practices work and which don’t. Let’s say that you had to choose between two options. Option 1: Do five acts of kindness, but only one a day over the course of a week. Option 2: Do five acts of kindness, all in one day. Which option makes you happier?

Lyubomirsky and colleagues conducted this experiment. Here are the exact instructions they gave participants:

“In our daily lives, we all perform acts of kindness for others. These acts may be large or small and the person for whom the act is performed may or may not be aware of the act. Examples include feeding a stranger’s parking meter, donating blood, helping a friend with homework, visiting an elderly relative, or writing a thank-you letter. Over the next week, you are to perform five acts of kindness. The acts do not need to be for the same person, the person may or may not be aware of the act, and the act may or may not be similar to the acts listed above. Do not perform any acts that may place yourself or others in danger.”

What did the researchers find? Practicing kindness made participants happier—but only if they did all their acts of kindness in a single day. Those who spread out their acts of kindness did not feel happier. Spreading out acts of kindness may have made each one too inconspicuous in the course of daily life to make much of a difference. Doing them all in the same day, however, made a powerful combined impact.

So, today I invite you to try their experiment.

What five acts of kindness can you do today?

Please leave a comment below:

Series Navigation<< Pursuit of Happiness: Can money buy happiness after all?Pursuit of Happiness: Is gratitude more than saying thanks? >>
Print Friendly
Comments: (0)
Categories: Respect