Have you ever had your food order paid for by the person in front of you in line? Have you had someone randomly compliment you lately? Or had your driveway shoveled for you in the winter or your lawn mowed in the summer?
If the answer is yes, think back to how it made you feel. Discovering that someone has done something nice for you makes you feel good as the recipient. Well, studies are also finding that the people who performed random acts of kindness experienced increased positive emotions and life satisfaction themselves.
In other words, helping others makes people feel better about themselves and their own lives. People who practiced kindness and engaged in generous acts experienced a significant boost in happiness. One study’s findings suggest that this boost in happiness can happen even when the good deeds are performed over as few as 10 days.
This works for children as well. In a study, children who made an effort to be kind to others experienced increased mood and happiness, increased acceptance of peers and were better liked by others. These things are important to social and academic success.
Why is being generous such a mood-enhancer? Exact answers are elusive, but the main reason is that it gives people a strong sense they're doing something that matters.
There are plenty of ways that parents can encourage their children to be kind to others. It could be something as simple as helping with the dishes in the evening or sharing toys or activities with a younger sibling. Encourage your children to compliment one person each day, or help them write thank you notes for gifts they’ve received. Remind your children to watch for opportunities to be kind to neighbors, family, and friends. The next time it snows, think about neighbors who might appreciate some help shoveling.
The entire family might want to take part in the kind acts by taking a meal to a home-bound neighbor or relative, volunteering at a local charity, or donating clothes or toys to those who need them.
It has been found, for the long-term, that individuals who vary their acts of kindness reported bigger increases in mood than those who repeated the same act over and over. Like many other things, you need variety or else it can get monotonous. You may find that while you are helping others, you are the one who truly benefits from these kind acts. Performing acts of kindness improves our sense of being connected to the community around us. Being kind to others can also improve our satisfaction with life and our self-esteem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these factors promote a general sense of well-being that is important to good physical and mental health.
To learn more about well-being and how it is related to your health, visit www.cdc.gov/hrqol/wellbeing.htm. For a list of some random acts of kindness that you can do, visit: http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas. It’s still early in the New Year, encourage your children to choose kindness in 2014, and then follow their lead!
Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.