The season of goodwill is upon us: a time for fun, family and cheer. But of course, the magic can’t last. Soon January will roll around, and we’ll all return to working, and sniffling and grumbling about the weather. But is there really nothing we can do to keep that warm fuzzy feeling?
The self-help industry was recently valued at an astounding $11 billion – there’s a lot of advice out there for those of us who want it. And whilst there may be differing ideas about how to achieve long-term happiness, one thing seems to come up time and time again: be kind.
The idea that acts of altruism can help the benefactor as well as the recipient has gained a lot of traction in recent years, but is this just empty pop psychology or is there really something to the idea that kindness is a cure?
Kindness Pays, Slightly
Well, yes there may be something there. But as with most things in science, it’s not quite that simple. A recent review of the scientific literature on kindness and happiness found that there is indeed a correlation between kindness and happiness. Put simply: the kinder we are, the happier we feel.
It’s important to note that the effect is not nearly as breathtaking as some self-help manuals would have us believe. Nonetheless, it does seem as though it pays to be kind, albeit only slightly.
In the past, studies have thrown up potential links between acts of compassion and personal health. There’s evidence to suggest that altruistic acts can help to reduce stress levels, and some studies have found a relationship between voluntary activities and improved stamina and memory. These effects may be partially linked to the sense of purpose and meaning that we get when we help others.
More Questions Than Answers
Research into the physical impact of kind behaviours is still in its early stages and more work is needed to understand possible links. Whilst this review – which looked at 400 published papers and 21 experimental studies – found a relationship between kindness and happiness, we really need to dig deeper to establish exactly how and why this link exists.
For instance, is kindness towards friends and family more rewarding that kindness towards strangers, or could the opposite be true? This is an area we still know remarkably little about.
Giving up our seat on the train or placing some coins in the charity box will not heal us of all suffering. Kindness is not a panacea. But being nice to people and doing good does appear to do us good as well – it’s not just airy fairy conjecture; this is cold hard science.
There is some evidence that kindness is good for us. But, perhaps more importantly, decency and understanding make the world a better place for everyone in it. And we don’t need science to tell us that.
Merry Christmas everyone!