What's the secret to happiness? New shoes? An attractive partner? Gobs of money?
Certainly we all take pleasure in external things, but a new study by Canadian psychologists has found that much of our joy comes from simply being nice. And, it’s got nothing to do with good manners or bad karma.
Being kind to other people makes us happy, the study found, and gives us a sense of wellbeing a pair of Jimmy Choos can’t provide.
Kindness also improves the way we perceive one another — and our outlook on the world. Kind people, it should come as no surprise, see the world as a better place.
However, Lynn Alden, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and one of the study's authors, cautions that people shouldn't do kind things just to make themselves feel happier. It's about doing things selflessly, not selfishly, she says.
"It’s more of an attitude change – being alert of things you can do for other people and doing them spontaneously because you want to do them. It has a side effect of making you feel good," says Alden.
We are "hard-wired," she says, to value one another's happiness. "When others are happy, kind of through emotional contagion, we feel happier."
The study's findings are good news for anyone who lends the occasional helping hand, however, the study’s authors believe it’s especially good news for those who suffer from shyness or social anxiety.
The study monitored 115 participants with high levels of social anxiety. It found that people who normally avoid social situations due to anxiety had their fears alleviated when they began performing acts of kindness for other people. This was true even if the act was a simple one, such as doing a roommate’s dishes or mowing a neighbor’s lawn. Seeing how their kindness benefitted another person raised their own happiness level, and it also made them engage more easily with the person.
The researchers believe that performing acts of kindness helps everyone live more satisfying, engaging lives.
So keep up that apple a day, certainly, but consider adding a good deed or two for a healthy dose of joy.
Starting Sunday TODAY is exploring the "Secrets of Happiness," a series with the latest research on what improves our sense of well-being at home, work and in our relationships.
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