If you had to take a guess at what science shows as some of the strongest predictors of happiness and well-being, what would you say? Money? Good looks? Material possessions? A rewarding job or satisfying relationship? Most of these do contribute at some level to our overall satisfaction with life, but there’s a clear leader for what predicts happiness and it isn’t any of these.
What Does the Science Say?
Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the world’s leading authorities in positive psychology has conducted dozens of studies with colleagues across thousands of subjects in efforts to figure out how to boost happiness and personal well-being. After decades of experiments, Seligman concludes, “We scientists have found that doing an act of kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.” That’s right, you can increase your well-being by simply being more kind.
How Kindness Affects Family Life
What about in your marriage and family? Can kindness make a difference there? According to Dr. John Gottman, an internationally renowned marriage expert, it can. He has spent more than four decades studying thousands of couples in a quest to understand why some marriages flourish and others flounder. He and other scholars agree that two of the key ingredients in the recipe for a happy and lasting relationship are kindness and generosity.
Not surprisingly, all the opposites of kindness, including meanness, criticism, and contempt, are some of the strongest destroyers of relationship connection and happiness.
The Ripple Effect
The experiences of kindness and compassion are so profound and powerful that studies show that even witnessing people being kind ripples outward and inspires others to be kind. When someone shares that they donated to a charity it increases the likelihood that those who are directly told about the giving will also donate, even up to a year later.
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation reports that watching others be kind can even be good for our health. Science shows that witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, occasionally referred to as the 'love hormone,' which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart health. Imagine that just by being kind you can improve the health of those around you.
Kindness and Your Health
In addition to a happier marriage and personal life, you also improve your health with simple acts of kindness. People who practice kindness and volunteer actually live healthier, longer lives, with lower levels of anxiety, depression, and even fewer physical aches and pains. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have a 44 percent lower likelihood of dying—and that’s after controlling for every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status, and many more. So next time you want to be mean, ask yourself if it’s worth dying for.
How to Jump on the Kindness Train
Here are two ideas of how to get started on a path to better health and happiness:
- Devote some time to serving those in your home. Examples could be to refrain from judging and instead offer a helping hand. Do a job for someone you love, to make their day a little easier. Leave a note of appreciation in a lunch box or on a car window for a family member.
- Look for ways to serve in your community. This could be as small as paying for the drink of the customer behind you or it could be as big as volunteering for a day of service. One of the best ways to serve those around you is to refrain from judging and offer a helping hand instead.
Don’t Overcomplicate It
Kindness doesn’t have to be major, dramatic acts of service. You never know how much of a difference a smile or chat with a friend or neighbor can make. You may be the only person that day, that week, or that month that took the time to notice someone. And that will change their whole outlook.
Maybe it’s time to stop looking for happiness everywhere out there and start looking right in front of us. In the end, how you treat people will have a powerful ripple effect on your happiness and well-being.
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