Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

Doing good makes you feel good.

Studies show that when we are kind to others we become happier, but self-indulgence doesn't increase our feelings of well-being.  Researchers found that the more generous and helpful people were, the more purposeful their lives felt.  Knowing they were useful and needed made them happy.

This finding demonstrates the opposite of what advertisers want us to believe.  As long as your basic needs are met, acquiring more won't make you happier.  Your life won't improve if you buy the next hot item or luxury upgrade.  But removing the excess and the busyness so you can pursue your life purpose has major benefits, for you and for others.

What does it mean to be kind?  It's more than being "nice."  Kindness means you've tried to understand another person, and you treat them the way you'd want to be treated.  It's the Golden Rule:  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Kindness may come easily when we're in a good mood and things are going well for us.  It's harder when we're tired, or stressed, or disappointed, or when the person in front of us isn't behaving well.  But that's when being kind can have the most powerful impact.

  • When your child throws a tantrum, or wakes you up at 2:00 a.m., be kind.
  • When your partner is short-tempered after a stressful day, be kind.
  • When your neighbor fails to pick up after his dog, state your case, but be kind.
  • When your co-worker disagrees with you, share your opinion and reasons, but be kind.

These situations aren't pleasant, and kindness can be a difficult challenge.  But you can choose to lighten the encounter, rather than making things worse.  And it might open the door for better communication and a happier resolution.

20 Ways to Show Kindness

  1. Smile and make eye contact.  Try leaving your phone in your bag so you can pay attention to the people around you.
  2. Give a sincere compliment.  Of course you can compliment someone's hair style or outfit, but it might mean more if you can praise their idea, creation, accomplishment, talent, or personality.
  3. Yield.  Hold the door, let someone go ahead of you in line, and don't be a pushy motorist.
  4. Greet your neighbor.  If you don't know him, introduce yourself.
  5. Pick up trash as you walk around your neighborhood or through the park.
  6. Plant a tree.  A tree provides beauty, shade, clean air, habitat for wildlife, improved soil and water conservation, and maybe even food.  Planting one is a gift to future generations.
  7. Write a note of encouragement or appreciation.
  8. Do a chore that rightfully belongs to your child, spouse, or co-worker.  Don't say anything about it, just let them discover it done.
  9. Give flowers or a special treat to your mother, your spouse, or another person dear to you, "just because."
  10. Invite a friend, neighbor, or a new acquaintance for a meal, for coffee, or to a community event such as a concert or art show.
  11. Make a date.  Arrange to spend some uninterrupted time with your partner, child, or other loved one, doing something that they like to do.  Even if you don't care much for watching a football game, playing with wooden trains, or going to a quilt show, try to understand their interest, and enjoy the time you share with them.
  12. Donate.  There are many opportunities, such as sponsoring a child in need, providing healthy staples to a local food pantry, or giving gently-used clothing and toys to a domestic violence shelter.
  13. Give blood.  You'll help several people, and maybe even save a life.
  14. Volunteer.  Pick a cause you care about, such as a homeless ministry, a senior center, a literacy program, an environmental group, a youth club, or an animal shelter, and give a few hours of your time and energy.
  15. Purchase ethically.  Don't buy clothing brands that use sweatshops; avoid food and cosmetics from companies that mistreat animals.
  16. Listen as someone tells you about their plans or their problems.  Give them your full attention without interrupting or criticizing.  Ask questions, but don't try to tell them what you think they should do unless they ask your opinion.
  17. Be inclusive.  Read or listen to alternate viewpoints.  Try to understand another point of view, even if you disagree with it.
  18. Keep your speech positive.  Don't indulge in gossip, but try to introduce a new subject.  Don't respond in kind to someone's unpleasant words, but try to reply calmly.  Ditch negative remarks and put your energy into fixing the problem.  
  19. Give up perfectionism.  It's unreachable.  Don't be impossible to please.  Be gracious about human error and shortcomings -- including your own.
  20. Forgive.  Carrying a grudge is hard and unpleasant work.  Try to see the incident from the other person's point of view, and acknowledge your own part in the situation.  Even if you believe most of the fault lies elsewhere, be the one to make the first move when you are calm enough to do so.  Forgiveness doesn't mean you're condoning bad behavior, simply that you're choosing to move on with a lighter emotional load.

One more thing about kindness:  it seems to be catching.  One person being kind can make others in a group more kind, which lifts everyone's spirits.  It's a wonderful feedback loop.

So behave like the person you want to be.  It really is the secret to happiness.


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