Excerpt: Dr. Ian Smith's 'Happy'

Then the study went further. Did it matter when these acts of kindness were performed? Students were asked to perform five random acts of kindness each week over a six week period. These acts had to be done either in a single day or across the week. The acts of kindness were behaviors that benefited others and included visiting a sick relative, donating blood, and dropping coins into a stranger's parking meter. The results were clear: Happiness levels increased, but only for those who performed all their kind acts in a single day. Let's call it the "day of kindness." Researchers speculated that when kind acts were spread throughout the week, the effect of each kind act was dispersed so that participants didn't distinguish between their normal behavior and the kindness prompted by the exercise. Taking both interventions together, happiness can definitely be boosted by intentional acts of kindness, but the impact of feeling good about your deeds depended on the timing and variety of performing such activities. The group that didn't practice acts of kindness experienced a reduction in happiness over the course of the six week period.

Why do acts of kindness work? Many believe that they bolster one's self- regard, increase the number of positive social interactions, and enhance charitable feelings toward others—all things previously believed to make people happier. Acts of kindness can inspire others to like you more and have a greater appreciation of your behavior, and potentially they can lead to reciprocal kindness. One of our basic human needs is to feel connected to someone else and establish some type of meaningful relationship. Committing acts of kindness satisfies this need.

Examples of Random Acts of Kindness

Make a meal or purchase a meal and give it to a homeless person.

Send flowers to someone in your company who is hardworking but underappreciated.

Visit a nursing home or senior citizen's home and bring a gift for the residents to enjoy.

Donate a winter coat to a family whose children might need one.

Leave an inspirational book on the seat of a bus or train with a note for the finder to enjoy it and pass it along when done.

Cut an inspiring story from a newspaper or magazine and post it on a bulletin board for others to read.

Collect things that might be needed at an animal shelter, such as blankets, toys, cat litter, etc., and deliver them to the shelter.

Run your own canned food drive and donate all the food to a residence of displaced families.

Anonymously send something that you know a friend or loved one needs.

Help a school or church plant a garden.

Keep a Gratitude Journal

The benefits of gratitude are nothing new to religions and philosophies that have long embraced it as virtuous and an integral component of spiritual and physical well- being. Scientists have come late to the game of trying to understand what if any role gratitude plays in the attainment of happiness. Several studies over the last ten years have been undertaken to discover and better understand this relationship. One landmark study was performed by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California–Davis.3 He looked at whether keeping a gratitude journal in which people recorded on a daily basis the things they were grateful for would have any impact on their level of happiness.

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