20 Ways to Increase Your Happiness by Being Kind

Shout at someone or give them the finger in traffic, and you can be sure that they or someone else will do the same to you.  Smile and wave, and you'll get the same response back (even from a stranger).

Our behavior is like a mirror, an echo, a boomerang – what we give is what we get.

man with sign asking for human kindness

Doing good makes you feel good.

Studies show that when we are kind to others (even in small ways) we become happier, but self-indulgence (contrary to expectations) 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.  Turns out that 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 busyness so you can pursue your life purpose has major benefits, for you and for others.

What does it mean to be kind?

Kindness is 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, 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 that might open the door for better communication and a happier resolution.

20 ways to show kindness

1.  Smile.  

This is difficult if you need to wear a mask.  So make eye contact and give a verbal greeting.  Try leaving your phone in your bag so you can pay attention to the people around you.

2.  Compliment.

A compliment shows people you're paying attention to them and you care about your relationship.  You can admire someone's hair style or outfit, but it might mean even more if you can sincerely 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.  Meet.  

Be the first to introduce yourself, and do your best to remember people's names (I'm really bad at this).  If you and your neighbors are strangers, fix it this week.

5.  Clean up. 

Take a bag with you and pick up trash as you walk around your neighborhood or through the park.

6.  Plant a tree.  

A tree provides so many benefits:

  • beauty
  • shade
  • clean air
  • habitat for wildlife
  • improved soil and water conservation
  • food (for humans and/or animals)  
Planting one is a gift to future generations.

7.  Write. 

Even a short note of encouragement or appreciation can make a big difference.

8.  Work.

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.

floral bouquet
9. Treat.

Give a small gift to your mother, your spouse, or another person dear to you, "just because."  It doesn't have to be expensive – flowers or fruit from your garden, a picture of the two of you in a thrifted frame, a hand-knit scarf or some home-baked cookies can mean more than something purchased in a store.

10.  Invite.

Ask a friend, neighbor, or a new acquaintance to go with you for a meal, 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 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, and give a few hours of your time and energy.  Options include:

  • homeless ministry
  • senior center
  • literacy program
  • environmental group
  • youth club
  • animal shelter

15.  Purchase ethically.  

Buy clothing that is made sustainably without sweatshops; choose more organic food; source your cosmetics from companies that don't mistreat animals.

16.  Listen. 

Show interest when someone tells you about their plans or 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.  Tolerate.  

Read or listen to alternate viewpoints.  Try to understand another point of view, even if you disagree with it.

18.  Watch your mouth.  

Work on being 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.  

Related article: How to Save Your Brain (and Improve Your Life!)

19.  Accept imperfection.  

Don't be impossible to please.  Be gracious about human errors 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, try to be willing to repair the relationship.  Forgiveness doesn't mean you're excusing bad behavior.  You're choosing to let go of resentment and bitterness.

Start an epidemic of kindness.

Kindness is contagious.  When one person is kind, other people respond kindly, which lifts everyone's spirits.  The boomerang effect can be wonderful!

So behave like the person you want to be.  It's the secret to happiness.

Updated July 2022


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