Kindness Makes You Happy
New research suggests that once you start doing nice things for other people, you might not want to stop.
Two recent studies suggest that giving to others makes us happy, even happier than spending on ourselves. What’s more, our kindness might create a virtuous cycle that promotes lasting happiness and altruism.
Everybody can appreciate acts of kindness. But when it comes to explaining why we do them, people often take one of two extreme positions. Some think kindness is something completely selfless that we do out of love and care, while others believe it is just a tool that we cunningly use to become more popular and reap the benefits.
But research shows that being kind to others can actually make us genuinely happy in a number of different ways. We know that deciding to be generous or cooperating with others activates an area of the brain called the striatum. Interestingly, this area responds to things we find rewarding, such as nice food and even addictive drugs. The feel-good emotion from helping has been termed “warm glow” and the activity we see in the striatum is the likely biological basis of that feeling.
But why and how does kindness make us so happy? There are a number of different mechanisms involved, and how powerful they are in making us feel good may depend on our personalities.
- Contagious smiling: Being kind is likely to make someone smile and if you see that smile for yourself, it might be catchy.
- Making connections: Being kind opens up many different possibilities to start or develop a social connection with someone.
- A kind identity: Most people would like to think of themselves as a kind person, so acts of kindness help us to demonstrate that positive identity and make us feel proud of ourselves.
- Kindness comes back around: Work on the psychology of kindness shows that one out of several possible motivations is reciprocity, the returning of a favor.
Being kind may boost your mood, but research has also shown that being in a good mood can make you more kind. This makes it a wonderful two-way relationship which just keeps giving.