Be Kind, Be Happy

It's worth making an effort to be a happy person. Research shows that happy people are healthier, wealthier, more creative, and have better marriages than their more sour kin. And while some aspects of personality may be beyond your control, experts say that happiness, to a large degree, can be acquired via positive thinking and small acts. In short, doing kind deeds that benefit others enhances your own personal happiness.

It truly is better to give than to receive, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside and author of The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn't, What Shouldn't Make You Happy, but Does (Penguin Press). She conducted several studies on the connection between kindness and happiness using a variety of populations, from adults in the workplace to tweens in the classroom. The results consistently demonstrated that doing nice things for others results in greater happiness for the person doing these deeds. Also heartening was the finding that personal kindness seems to spread socially, resulting in more generosity and good feeling all around.

Want to boost your happiness quotient? Include acts of kindness in your daily routine. They don't have to be grand, costly gestures. Take the following, for instance:

  • Hug to a friend who's stressed out. You just may give her the lift she needs to get through her day.
  • Vacuum the house before your significant other arrives home from a long day.
  • Share your lunch with someone who's hungry.
  • Always say "please" and "thank you." This is especially important for little ones to learn.
  • Stop and talk to an elderly person. He or she may be very lonely and grateful for the conversation. At the very least, you may learn something interesting.
  • Make up the difference if someone in front of you on line at the grocery store is a dollar or two short.
  • Compliment someone on her wardrobe or her hair.
  • Let a car merge in front of you in a traffic jam.

As the above examples illustrate, it takes very little effort (and money) to be kind, and the payoff—a happier life—is priceless. You'll not only benefit yourself, but you'll be setting a wonderful example to everyone around you, old or young.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, reviewed this article