Every December advertisers try to convince me that my family and I would be happier if only we purchase their products. Certainly, the giving and receiving of presents brings pleasure to many, but perhaps the simplest gift with the most profound impact is that of kindness. It can cost nothing, but can have a powerful social impact. As the newspaper humourist and columnist Art Buchwald commented: “The best things in life aren’t things,” and a growing number of people are preferring experiences over material possessions.
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” The Dalai Lama
I’ve been inspired by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, which believes that “kindness has the power to change the way that people see and experience the world” and as an active member of Action for Happiness, I have found that integrating the Ten Keys to Happier Living into my life has been a powerfully enriching experience. The Giving ‘key’ highlights that doing (kind) things for others is a powerful way of contributing to their (and our) happiness. The research evidence on the impact of kindness is growing: Being kind boosts our ‘feel good’ brain chemicals, reduces stress, improves mood, and is associated with a decrease in pain and an increase in energy. Repeated, regular acts of kindness increase compassion and have the capacity to impact on many more people than the giver and receiver. People who receive or even observe acts of kindness are likely to ‘pay it forward’ and do something kind for others, potentially starting a trend of kindness.
Our brains are hardwired to look for threats and we often make negative assumptions and fail to notice the positive things in life. I am no exception. Like many others, I have found that practicing kindness requires conscious effort. Starting each day with the intention of being kind has resulted in a decrease in my negative assumptions and an increase in my kind and compassionate behaviours, and made my life much more fulfilling.
Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky’s research demonstrates that over time people engaging in kind acts become happier and people receiving kindness are more likely to be kind and generous to others. In this way, kindness is contagious! There is a powerful correlation between engaging in kind acts and feeling happier, and this knowledge inspired me to find ways of encouraging more kindness in our world.
The Action for Happiness Kindness December Calendar:
In the UK, December is a particularly frenetic month in which shopping is a pre-occupation for many. To encourage people to find different ways of being generous, I decided to create a kindness calendar to share with my church community. The calendar suggested a kind action that people could take (intentionally) each day during the month of December. Dr Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness, felt that this fitted with Action for Happiness’ aim of creating a happier, more caring society and produced the graphics for the calendar which was uploaded to the Action for Happiness website. We originally thought that its circulation would be relatively limited, but thanks to social media, the response was exponential. Nearly 2 million people across the globe downloaded the calendar, and to our knowledge it has been translated into Spanish, French, Italian, Lithuanian and Icelandic. The Action for Happiness Twitter feed was awash with comments of appreciation and excitement at having the calendar. If only half of those downloading the calendar undertook acts of kindness for half the number of days in December, that’s approximately 15 million acts of kindness across the world! Imagine that! And with the research evidence that people in receipt of acts of kindness being likely to pay it forward, our hope is that the calendar will have gone some way to creating a happier more caring society.
Happy New Year Calendar:
Several people posting on Twitter wondered whether the initiative would be extended into 2018, and Mark Williamson, Vanessa King and I created a Happy New Year calendar for January 2018. The calendar offers one suggested action for each day of January 2018 covering each of the Ten Keys to Happier Living. To date the January calendar has been downloaded by more than 150,000 people.
The feedback so far:
The calendars set the scene for acts of kindness or taking a ‘happiness action’ for the day. The response to them has been hugely positive, and many have shared them within their own communities. I have been amazed and delighted by the way in which my original small action seems to have inspired so many, and hope that it has contributed to a kinder, happier and more caring world.
Everyone hates January. The post-Christmas comedown hits us hard, especially with 2017 being such a tough year. Kindness 31 is our antidote to that. Every day we’ll share a good news story about someone (or a group of people) and their act of kindness or how they helped others. If you want to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively if you’d like to nominate someone to be featured, fill in this form.