If you’re looking for a scientifically tested, step-by-step formula for becoming happier, this is probably as close as you’re going to get.
That makes me sound like I’m hawking copies of a self-help book. But I’m actually just talking about a recent paper by researchers at University of Oxford, published in the Journal of Social Psychology.
In their study, the researchers looked into the relationship between kindness and happiness, and they came to an interesting conclusion: going out of your way to perform acts of kindness for one week may increase your happiness, regardless of whether you’re performing the acts of kindness for people you know well or for strangers.
The researchers showed this by following 683 people over the course of seven days, asking them about whether they engaged in various types of “kindness activities.”
The researchers were especially curious about whether engaging in acts of kindness directed at different people would have different affects on happiness. So they separated acts of kindness performed for people with close social ties from those performed for people who were more distant.
As it turned out, whether kind acts were done for people the participants knew well or those they hardly knew didn’t make much difference at all. In both cases, performing more acts of kindness was associated with greater increases in happiness.
Interestingly, even performing acts of kindness for one’s self and observing other people perform acts of kindness were linked to similar increases in happiness. Apparently, the power of kindness to boost happiness extends beyond directly performing acts of kindness for other people.
The idea that acts of kindness can directly precipitate increases in happiness is consistent with previous research. For example, a 2010 study found that people who went out of their way to perform either acts of kindness or acts of trying new things over the course of 10 days experienced increases in life satisfaction.
So if you want to try an experiment in becoming happier, do the following: go out of your way to perform as many acts of kindness as possible for the next seven days. The more acts of kindness the better, including acts of kindness done for people you know, for people you don’t know, and for yourself.
Image: Flickr/Justin Flood