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One act of random kindness at a time improves your wellbeing

This picture shows a small garden, possibly a window garden or garden bed. Propped up in between some plans is a small square sign made of white paper that says #(hashtag) Be Kind

Global culture tends to emphasise the pursuit of wealth, material possessions, and short-term pleasure. Unfortunately, none of these things permanently add to your overall level of happiness – unlike performing one random act of kindness at a time. This article explores why most external circumstances don’t really affect your happiness overall (your happiness set-point on a macro level), then looks at ways to improve your wellbeing on a micro, daily basis by practising one act of random kindness at a time.

The well-being baseline

There’s strong evidence from studies of identical twins that suggest that almost half of your happiness level is determined by your genetic makeup. In other words, you’re born with it. And the theory of the ‘hedonic treadmill’ suggests that no matter how much your circumstances change, you tend to return to your own personal well-being baseline – whether you walk or run, earn more or less, own more or less… you stay in the same place.

Your needs adjust to your circumstances

For example, as you earn more money, your expectations and desires also increase. You have a bigger number in your bank account at month-end, but you live in a bigger house, drive a newer car, eat more expensive food and so on.

You don’t actually end up feeling any different, and your baseline of personal happiness remains more or less constant. Even if there’s a major change in your circumstances, after a period of adjustment you’ll return to approximately the same level of happiness that you’ve always had. And it doesn’t seem to matter if the change is positive or negative.

Most people revert to set-point

That’s why you hear when people win a lottery they’re initially ecstatic. Yet often when they’re interviewed a few years down the line their big win hasn’t made them happier overall.

Conversely, people who’ve suffered through some painful experience or loss that most would think of as devastating (like losing the use of their legs), also generally return to the same personal baseline level of happiness that they’ve always had.

The wellbeing setpoint is a generalisation, but it’s useful

Of course, there are individual differences and some external circumstances really do have the power to change your well-being set-point, but as a generalisation the concept of a relatively stable level of happiness holds true when seen from an overarching perspective.

Daily happiness is more volatile

Daily well-being, however, is influenced by what you do in your day. Accepting the reality of your personal happiness set-point doesn’t mean that you can’t make a difference to how you feel about yourself and your life in the here-and-now.

Uncomplicated actions can make a big difference

There’s a substantial body of research supporting simple daily habits that have a positive impact on your mood and behaviour. For example, if you prioritise regular sleep, make time to exercise and eat well, you will feel better about yourself in every way.

Perform one act of random kindness at a time

There is another simple thing that you can add to your repertoire of self-care, one that gives you an immediate and positive reward in your day: Practice one act of random kindness at a time, and count up what you did at the end of the day.

An act of kindness is something you do for someone else that is selfless, compassionate, or at least prioritizes someone else’s needs above yours, even if just for a moment.

Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing

In modern thinking, kindness can be surrounded by stigma (do-gooder, goody two-shoes are some unkind labels), or have negative repercussions. In my perspective, there is some substance to this school of thought. Too much kindness can easily turn into enabling someone else, or allowing one’s own boundaries to be violated, which is hardly healthy. Instead of having a mindset of always putting other people’s needs before your own, consider practising kindness in a deliberate and intentional way.

One act of random kindness at a time: Some examples to get you started

There are many things you can do to practice kindness. Some examples include:

  • Let someone go ahead of you in a line when they’re clearly in a hurry or have less to ring up than you do.
  • Make a special effort to call or message someone.
  • Drop off a meal for someone who needs support.
  • Donate old clothes to a charity shop.
  • Plant a tree.
  • Pick up plastic on the beach.
  • Send flowers to someone who might need cheering up.
  • Stop to let someone in front of you in traffic.
  • If someone is short of an amount in front of you at the till, pay in the amount.
  • Give up your seat to an older person, or someone who’s pregnant, or has lots of shopping to carry.
  • Cut the grass or shovel snow from the kerb running on the side of your street.
  • Give a stranger a sincere compliment.
  • Thank someone in your community with a small gift.
  • Be extra kind to your server, or cashier.
  • Give an extra-large tip to your server or barista.
  • Praise a local business by giving them a positive google review.
  • Email a thank you to a colleague.
  • Praise a junior at work when you can see they’re trying.
  • Think of a way to pay it forward – if anyone is kind to you, find a way to do that thing for someone else.

Of course, the list could go on and on, but the point is to look for opportunities to do something kind for someone (anyone) else.

Just one random act of kindness at a time will directly benefit you

When you deliberately offer an act of kindness, whether small or large, it obviously benefits the receiver. Yet one act of random kindness at a time has an immediate, direct, and positive impact on you. You feel good about yourself, there is a sense of reward, and you feel more purposeful.

If you’re one of the many people who report feeling isolated and alone just from today’s modern lifestyle and the effects of the pandemic, performing one small act of kindness will help you feel socially connected. It will add to your enjoyment of life and help you to find meaning in your own life.

Kindness makes you happier and healthier

Research shows that there’s a direct correlation between the number of acts of kindness performed in a day, and the sense of happiness that people experience. Being kind increases our level of oxytocin, the “love hormone” and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. This has measurable benefits to physical and emotional wellbeing.

Counting our acts of kindness also makes us smile and improves our happiness. Being mindful of our own kindness and thinking about the kind things we did (in the day or over the week) improves our wellbeing even further.

Make one act of random kindness part of your daily practice

Repetition and consistency are key to experiencing all the lovely benefits to your wellbeing from practising kindness. When you deliberately add kindness into your daily life on an ongoing basis and frequently take the time to count up every act of random kindness, the results are beneficial to absolutely everyone.

If you try incorporating one act of random kindness at a time into your life, I’d love to hear how it works for you. And if you enjoyed reading this article, please go ahead and share it on your social channels!

Further reading 

Do any of the studies I reference in the above article intrigue you? You can find them here:

  1. A range of kindness boosts happiness.
  2. Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it: results from a prospective study of mortality.
  3. Five steps to mental wellbeing
  4. Is happiness hiding in our genes?
  5. How to be happy? 25 Habits to Add to Your Routine
  6. Why your random act of kindness makes you happy
  7. Kindness makes you happy and happiness makes you kind
  8. Hedonic relativism and planning the good society. Brickman, P., & Campbell, D. T. (1971). In M. H. Appley (Ed.), Adaptation-level theory (pp. 287-305). New York: Academic Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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