ouldn’t it be great if you could buy lifelong happiness? The idea is not as fanciful as it sounds. Especially if what you buy is for someone else.In Greater Good Magazine
, writer Alex Dixon looks at two studies. Both suggest that giving to others makes us happy. Even happier than when we spend on ourselves. What’s more, our kindness might create a cycle that promotes lasting happiness and altruism.
In short, kindness makes you happy. And happiness makes you kind.
In the Journal of Social Psychology, researchers in Britain had participants take a survey measuring life satisfaction. Then they assigned all 86 participants to one of three groups. One group was asked to perform a daily act of kindness for the next 10 days. Another group was also told to do something new each day over those 10 days. A third group received no instructions.
After 10 days, the participants retook the life satisfaction survey.
The groups that practiced kindness and engaged in novel acts experienced a significant—and roughly equal—boost in happiness. The third group didn’t get any happier. The findings suggest that good deeds do in fact make people feel good. Even when performed over as little as 10 days. And there may be particular benefits to varying our acts of kindness. Novelty seems linked to happiness as well.
But kindness may have a longer and more profound effect on our happiness, according to another study. Published online in the Journal of Happiness Studies, the research came from Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia.
The researchers asked about half of the 51 participants to recall, in detail, the last time they spent $20 to $100 on themselves. The other participants had to recall the last time they spent the same amounts on someone else. All the participants completed a scale that measured how happy they were.
Researchers then gave the participants small sums of money and two basic choices. They could spend it on themselves (by covering a bill or buying a gift for themselves). Or on someone else (through a donation to a charity or a gift). They could choose either option. And their choice would remain anonymous.
The researchers made two big findings. In general, people felt happier when asked to recall a time when they bought something for someone else. Even happier than when they remembered buying something for themselves. This happiness boost was the same regardless of whether the gift cost $20 or $100.
Those who felt happier about past generosity were more likely to spend the money on someone else instead of themselves. Not all participants who remembered their past kindness felt happy. But the ones who did were more likely to double down on altruism.
The results suggest a kind of “positive feedback loop” between kindness and happiness. According to the authors, one encourages the other.
“The practical implications of this positive feedback loop could be that engaging in one kind deed would make you happier. And the happier you feel, the more likely you are to do another kind act,” says Lara Aknin, the study’s lead author. “This might also be harnessed by charitable organizations. Reminding donors of earlier donations could make them happy, and experiencing happiness might lead to making a generous gift.”