Happiness stems from within, we’re told. If you want to be happy, start with you. Be good to yourself first. Focus on self-care. Give yourself a little treat.
This is the kind of advice that sounds good and is easy to follow. And while it’s important not to skimp on self-care and let yourself run too far on empty a question naturally follows: Does taking care of yourself lead to happiness?
Thankfully, this is a question that’s being researched.
And in fact, research suggests that’s not actually the way that we’re wired. The truth is that being kind to other people seems to make people happier than treating themselves.
Being Kind to Others Makes You Happier
In a recent study, prosocial behavior and act of kindness performed on others led to greater psychological fluorishing more than self-focused or neutral behavior. Psychological fluorishing in this instance referred both to increases in positive emotions and decreases in negative emotions.
In the words of the research team:
The results of this study contribute to a growing literature supporting the benefits of prosocial behavior and challenge the popular perception that focusing on oneself is an optimal strategy to boost one’s mood. People striving for happiness may be tempted to treat themselves. Our results, however, suggest that they may be more successful if they opt to treat someone else instead.
Practicing Random Acts of Kindness
If you’re looking to start practicing acts of kindness, set a goal of doing an act of kindness as often as you can manage it. Once a week was realistic for me. Some may be able to manage more, others less. The more often the better, but the key is consistency and developing the habit.
These do not have to be grand gestures.
For maximum effect, change up the kind act and who you are doing it for each time.
And most importantly — do NOT tell anyone you’ve done it. This is because we tend to ruminate and remember things that we haven’t told anybody about longer than those we have, because a task that’s completed is one we forget more easily (see: the Zeignarik effect). So if you keep your acts of kindness a secret, you are more likely to think of them over and over and get more mileage out of them.
If you’re looking for inspiration, randomactsofkindness.org has an exhaustive database of ideas to get you started.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.