Acts of kindness to boost happiness – a positive psychology tool

This post is the first of a twelve part series on positive psychology tools to increase happiness. Here's what the research says about acts of kindness to increase your happiness.
acts of kindness to boost happiness

Most of us probably intuitively know this, but acts of kindness boost your happiness. Plus, it’s a double win because the other person on the receiving end will likely feel happier too. 

As I’ve said above, this post is part of a longer, twelve part series of happiness tools that we can all use in our day-to-day lives. 

quick recap of what really contributes to happiness

If you’ve read a previous post of mine on what truly makes up our happiness, then you’ll know about the pie chart theory. In particular, you’ll know that unless you’re faced with an existential crisis, your happiness is only to about 10% down to your circumstances. 

pie chart theory of happiness

And yet, a whopping 40% of our happiness is down to our intentional activities. The things we do and how we live on a day-to-day basis. 

And that’s where the 12 happiness habits come in. 

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology, has conducted and reviewed years of research into why some people are happy and others are not. Her results are twofold: 

There’s her pie chart theory I just mentioned. And then there are also her 12 happiness habits that research suggests can boost that 40% of our happiness


acts of kindness to boost happiness

Research clearly says that happy people have better relationships than their less happy peers. 

I talk about the importance of connecting to others all the time. I know it for myself and hear it from others as well: if we don’t spend quality time with other people, our happiness drops – especially for us women. And practising kindness can really strengthen that bond to other people. 

Nobody will argue that being kind or generous is a good thing morally. In fact, it’s something we teach kids from an early age.

But research by Sonja Lyubomirsky herself suggests that you need to keep those kindness activities fresh and meaningful. If you do the same thing repeatedly, it might just become another item on your to-do list. 

Brilliant reasons why helping others make you feel better

I mentioned already that kind acts can increase your sense of connection and belonging to others. You’re also probably become more compassionate and judge others less for needing help. The whole idea of us all needing and even depending on one another is heightened through acts of kindness. 

By helping others you’ll also feel more thankful for your own situation or your advantage by comparison. You might for example feel grateful that you’re not currently dealing with a major illness, a relationship breakdown or money worries. 

Or perhaps you are dealing with some of those same difficulties, but by helping others you might just get a welcome distraction. Your focus can shift from you (and your own struggles) to somebody else. 

Helping others and perhaps volunteering for a worthy cause can also develop your skills, abilities and give you that sense of control over your life. Volunteering is also associated with reduced depressive symptoms!

Plus, you might strengthen old or new friendships and feel liked by other people. You’ll also get the feeling that others appreciate you and your kind acts and that feeling is priceless. 

In fact, one my clients had a real happiness and confidence boost from joining a volunteer project abroad for two weeks recently. 


Be aware of this though:

It’s worth mentioning that I’m not talking about full-time caregiving for a chronically ill or disabled loved one. As honourable as that is, it’s not what the 12 happiness habits are about. 

Acts of kindness are best done when they’re freely given and don’t interfere with your own daily goals and functioning. On top, they should not lead to a sense of resentment towards another, or the sense of being taken advantage. 

And importantly, you’d want to make sure that whoever it is that you’re helping actually wants your help. 

What are you going to do?

So really, there’s lots of research confirming the link between kind acts and your own happiness. 

It also points out that the timing might be important. It suggests picking one day a week to either do one large act of kindness, or 3-5 smaller ones. It appears that that’s more of happiness boost than trying to do one small act each day. 

But just have a go for yourself. 

For me personally, the idea of shifting your focus from yourself to another is the most important point. Why? Because being depressed can really keep you trapped in self absorption. I don’t say this to be mean, but I just know this from my own experience. Your world can become very, very small and narrow-focused. All about you and your own struggles. 

And to be able to just now and again take a step out of that tiny and depressed world. To broaden your perspective and help somebody else – well I think that’s really important to do. I reckon it will make you feel far better than you could even imagine.


So: What act of kindness to boost your happiness are you going to do?

acts of kindness to boost happiness

In case you wondered, that beautiful photo on this post is from Naomi Bulger. She illustrates envelopes (amongst other beautiful things) that you can print and colour in yourself at home. If your next kind act is going to be a nice letter to someone, and you fancy her mail art, just click here

Positive psychology is part of my work in helping women overcome depression naturally. If you’d like to know more about my work, take a look at my one-to-one programme Back to Light and Laughter here

Welcome to the blog

I’m Claudia Smith and I help women get to better mental health naturally. Having overcome depression once myself, I am a qualified nutritionist, coach and practice functional medicine.

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