Several months later the most amazing thing that ever happened between my grandfather and me took place when I was about to leave his house after a Sunday visit. I reached down to hug him, and not only did he let me kiss him, but without my saying it first, he said, "I love you." I was temporarily paralyzed. I knew what I had heard, but I also knew it would be a mistake to make anything of it. So fighting back every urge to make a fuss, I simply returned the gesture and got out of the house as fast as I could before he did something like take it back. When I got into the car and was on my way back to New York City, I called my mother and told her what had happened.
"He's doing things like that lately," she said. "He's been calling us up on the phone, telling funny stories about his childhood, and asking about the next time the family plans to get together."
"I can't believe this," I said. "He's actually getting softer in his old age."
"In all my life I've never seen him like this," my mother confirmed. "He's happier and more engaged. He's like a brand new person."
Just to be clear, it wasn't as if Pops had turned into the happiest person in the world, where he was bouncing off the walls and writing us love poems, but he had definitely undergone a transformation— a big one for him— from an unhappy, distempered person to someone who was more engaged and appreciative of those around him. He was spending more time with us and openly acknowledging what he was grateful for. He was happier not just in his actions but in his words, doing and saying things I had never heard him say. New research on happiness tells us that even those prone to habitual melancholy and grim temperament can lift their mood through a series of exercises and behaviors that are surprisingly simple and quite easy to accomplish. I have listed some of the most popular of these boosters that could also give you a lift.
How many times did I hear growing up, "When you do for others, you're also doing for yourself." Another stalwart in our home was "It's better to give than to receive." We had been indoctrinated with the belief that selflessness was not only a way to feel better about yourself but was one of the important keys to eternal salvation. Scientists decided to put to the test what Bible- toting grandmothers already knew as truth.
There had been hints in earlier research that individuals who report having a great interest in helping people act in a prosocial manner, or have intentions to perform selfless or courteous behaviors are more likely to rate their disposition as happy. Attempting to build on this earlier work, researchers in one study asked participants to practice random acts of kindness regularly over a ten- week period.2 The acts included such things as doing a roommate's dishes and holding the door open for a stranger. According to the results, how often the kind acts were performed had no impact on the level of reported happiness, but the variety of the kind of acts did. Those who performed a wide range of kind acts reported increasing happiness even as long as one month after the study was completed. Those who reported their events of the past week rather than focus on acts of kindness showed no changes in their level of happiness.