In “The Healing Power of Doing Good”, Allan Luks reports that there’s a phenomenon called the helper’s high, which is described as a feeling of warmth and increased energy, as well as a feeling of euphoria, that people feel when they’re being kind to others.
In addition, a 2005 study from Hebrew University in Israel found a link between kindness and the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain.
Dr. Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., is a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and co-author of the book, “Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving”. He has the following to say about helping others:
“All the great spiritual traditions and the field of positive psychology are emphatic on this point — that the best way to get rid of bitterness, anger, rage, jealousy [and so on] is to do unto others in a positive way.”
He adds that there are studies that show that when people act with generosity and compassion, there’s a positive effect on their health and well-being. Post explains that evolution may have primed us to feel good from giving because groups that had a large number of people who were altruistic toward others were more likely to survive than groups that did not.
There are several other studies that show that being kind to others makes us happier. One such study was conducted a couple of years ago by the University of British Columbia. Students at the university were given an amount of money ranging from $5.00 to $20.00. They were given the following instructions:
- Some of the students were told to spend the money on themselves.
- Some of the students were told to spend the money on others.
At the end of the day, the students who had spent the money on others–whether giving the money to a charity or buying a gift for someone else–were subjectively happier than those who had spent the money on themselves.
In yet another study, researchers scanned the brains of volunteers as they were asked to think about a scenario involving either donating a sum of money to charity or keeping it for themselves. The results showed that when the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, this activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex.
All of the above suggests that altruism is not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges, but rather is basic to the brain, hard-wired, and pleasurable.
So, since doing good for others is conducive to happiness, how can you do more of it? Perform random acts of kindness.
Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., is one of the leaders in the field of positive psychology and the author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. In her book she incorporates strategies and exercises to help the reader increase their levels of happiness.
One of these strategies is to take the challenge to perform five acts of kindness, one day a week. I recommend that you take her up on the challenge. If you do so, below you’ll find 42 random acts of kindness ideas to help you get started.
42 Random Acts of Kindness Ideas
1. Plant flowers in a public, neglected corner.
2. Help someone going through difficult financial times to go home for the holidays. Investigate the rules of your airline’s frequent flyer programs –some programs allow a ticket that you purchase with your miles to be used by anyone.
3. Leave some treats for your garbage collectors. Collecting garbage is a difficult and important job, but garbage collectors are often taken for granted. If someone deserves a random act of kindness, I think it’s them.
4. Fill a basket with everything a new-born baby needs and drop it off at a nearby hospital for a woman of low income who just gave birth.
5. Leave the exact change for a soda in the change slot of a vending machine.
6. Take a box of donuts to your local firehouse or police station.
7. Put money in someone else’s parking meter if their time is about to expire.
8. Forgive someone a debt that they owe you if it becomes obvious that they can’t pay it.
9. Pay it forward with books. When you’re done reading a great book, leave it in a public place for someone else to find. Add a note saying something like the following: “This book belongs to whoever finds it. When you’re done reading it, pass it on.”
10. Over-tip a waiter or give the pizza delivery guy a really large tip.
11. Drop coins on the sidewalk for someone else to find.
12. Leave a tip in a street musician’s jar.
13. Visit a nursing home and help brighten the day of an elderly person who doesn’t get many visitors.
14. Send a soldier a care package.
15. Help an elderly neighbor with their yard, whether it’s raking the leaves or mowing their lawn.
16. When you’re done shoveling the snow off of your driveway, shovel your neighbor’s driveway. Here’s a sweet story that came out in the news this year of six teenagers who did this for their whole neighborhood.
17. Buy a prepaid phone card and give it to someone who needs it.
18. Prepare a meal for a friend, co-worker, or neighbor who’s sick.
19. Let someone who appears to be in a hurry cut ahead of you in line.
20. Buy a pack of Girl Scout cookies.
21. Help out at a soup kitchen.
22. Offer busy parents to babysit their kids so they can have some alone time.
23. Buy five extra cans of soup or vegetables at the store and drop them off at a local food bank.
24. Donate craft supplies for second graders at a school in need.
25. Purchase a few umbrellas and ponchos and keep them in your car. On a rainy day, find someone who needs them.
26. Send someone who’s feeling down a box of sunshine: fill it with yellow things. This can be yellow candy, lemon cake mix, a yellow mug with a smiley face on it, smiley face stickers, yellow slippers, a great book wrapped in yellow, and so on.
27. Send a friend an old photo of the two of you together and include a note recalling that time.
28. Cheer up a friend who needs it. Take them out to lunch and listen to them. Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to lend a sympathetic ear.
29. Give your spare laptop or desktop computer to an elderly person who you know is home-bound. Teach them to use the Internet.
30. Drop kindness bombs: leave small scraps of paper with positive messages on them in library books.
31. Purchase a couple of extra bags of dog food and drop them off at a local animal shelter — because dogs are also in need of some random kindness.
32. Do a chore for someone else in your family — take out the garbage, make dinner, wash the car, and so on.
33. Help victim’s of domestic violence — go to the women’s shelter closest to your home and drop off hygiene items such as soap, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, razors, deodorant, toothbrushes and paste, tampons and pads, diapers, and wipes.
34. Bake cookies for your postman/postwoman.
35. Invite someone who’s alone to have dinner with your family for the holidays.
36. Let another car merge in front of you, or stop to let a pedestrian cross the street.
37. Give a kid a sincere compliment and encourage them to be the best that they can be.
38. If someone close to you is going through a hard time, ask them: “What do you need?” or “How can I help?”
39. If you’re fortunate enough to have at least one grandparent who’s still alive, call them. Having grandparents is a gift.
40. Write a letter to each of your siblings letting them know how much they mean to you and all the reasons why you appreciate them.
41. If someone new moves to your neighborhood, stop by and welcome them.
42. If a friend is going on vacation, offer to feed their pets and water their plants.
Will you take the challenge to perform 5 random acts of kindness a day, one day a week? If so, I hope that you found the42 ideas above helpful for your challenge. Live your best life by being kind to others.
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