The Remarkable Rewards of Kindness

Paying it forward is a concept founded on unselfish giving.  Clearly, acts of kindness bring benefits to the recipients of our generosity.  Are there also substantial rewards for those who regularly “pay it forward?” Are those who display kindness also being kind to themselves?

Social scientists have spent 25 years learning through controlled studies what really makes people happy.  Their research has shattered a widely-believed myth.  It has also revealed that being generous and kind – something most believe in but few take time to practice – actually holds a key to greater happiness for both giver and receiver.

Exploding a dangerous myth

The widely-held myth exploded by science is that seeking their own selfish advantage makes people happier.  Study after study shows it doesn’t.  The 80s bumper sticker phrase, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins” epitomizes this view.  Research reveals that those who spend their lives accumulating the most toys often lose.  Dr. David Myers, social psychologist and college textbook author, sums up the findings:

Individuals who strive most for wealth tend to live with lower well-being, a finding that “comes through very strongly in every culture I’ve looked at,” reports Richard Ryan (1999).

Google co-founder, the fabulously wealthy Sergey Brin put it this way:

I always in the back of my mind figured a lot of money will buy you a little bit of happiness. But it’s not really true.

A better way

“Paying it forward” and generously giving to others materially, by helping, or providing emotional support actually brings much greater satisfaction that collecting “the most toys.”

University professors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton reported in Harvard Business Review that their research had found that even in very poor countries where life is a daily struggle, people who reflected on giving to others were happier than those who thought about spending on themselves.  Further, expending just a few dollars on someone else boosts happiness levels.  They wrote:

In one study, we found that asking people to spend as little as $5 on someone else over the course of a day made them happier at the end of that day than people who spent the $5 on themselves.

Shawn Achor, who taught Harvard’s “Happiness Course” (Positive Psychology), relates how he often paid a $2 toll for the driver behind him, considering it an inexpensive investment in feeling good.

Acts of Kindness

In The Happiness Advantage, Achor wrote:

A long line of empirical research, including one study of over 2,000 people, has shown that acts of altruism – giving to friends and strangers alike – decrease stress and strongly contribute to enhanced mental health.

toddler givingRenowned happiness researcher Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky found that having students perform 5 acts of kindness per week for 6 weeks really paid off.  Some did all five in a single day.  Others spread them throughout the week.  A control group was not assigned to perform acts of kindness.  As reported in “Happiness for a Lifetime” (The Greater Good – University of California at Berkeley) those who practiced altruism were substantially happier afterwards.  As the study’s results graph shows, people who performed 5 kind acts, however small, in a single day were much happier than the others.  Note how far away from happingess was the control group, who was not asked to do anything for anyone:

Changes in happiness from performing 5 acts of kindness on a single day, over a week, or not at all (Control)

Generosity’s Double Bonus

The happiness reward for generosity is so universal that it may be hardwired in the human brain.  And altruism produces additional rewards.  Those who receive gifts often feel genuine gratitude.  This can generate affection for the one who unselfishly helped them.  It can form or strengthen friendships, which research finds are a major source of happiness.

Additionally, studies across the globe revealed that humans are motivated by what psychologists call the Reciprocity Rule.  According to influence expert Dr. Robert Cialdini:

The rule says we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.

Portrait-Smiling middle aged woman in cafe (feature photo2)Thus, when we act generously towards others, even in small ways, we help ourselves. We feel happier.  Those who receive our gift will often want repay our kindness.  Doing so, they will feel happier. Receiving their magnanimous gesture or sincere thanks, we will too.

As the graph above well illustrates, selfishness can rob us of happiness.  There really is “more happiness in giving than in receiving.”

About Larry Rondeau, Managing Editor

Larry Rondeau, Managing Editor at LookYounger.News, is a medical and science writer who is highly experienced in writing about facial rejuvenation procedures, psychology and business. He was mentored by renowned social psychologist, researcher and author Dr. Robert Cialdini, who praised him for his "depth of insight." SUNY Lecturer Peter Pociluyko spoke of Larry's "deep understanding and comprehension of the concepts of social psychology." Larry won 4 national awards while at The Allied Group, where he served as Senior Director of Business Development and later Senior Director of Research and Content Development. ( read more )

Articles by Larry Rondeau, Managing Editor

Eliminate Everyday Stress and Negative Emotions in Minutes

Neurology research has revealed a technique that makes it easier to cope with stress, irritation, disappointment and the difficult people we meet everyday. [Read More]

Assuring Success if You or Your Child Didn’t Get Into Your 1st College Choice

Many believe college choice is crucial to success. Could another factor make a real difference for good students who didn’t get into a top-tier university? What good options can help high school graduates earn a good living without carrying heavy student loan debt? [Read More]

Improving your Appearance – Could it Improve your Income?

Everyone knows that people who look better are treated better. Research by economists shows they’re paid better, too. How much more? Do looks effect sales performance? [Read More]

Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Surgery: Who Can Best Help You to Look Younger?

Thinking of plastic surgery, cosmetic surgery or a nonsurgical cosmetic procedure to look younger? An expert New York plastic surgeon tells who’s in the best position to give you great results. [Read More]

Influence: People First Judge Your Competence by Your Face

Do others first judge your ability to do the job by the condition of your face? Research finds they do. [Read More]

Help in Coping with Disasters – Part 2: Tools to Aid in Recovery

Coping with disasters like the California wildfires as well as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria isn’t easy. What additional tools can help people to cope with any disaster? [Read More]

Help in Coping with Disasters – Part One

Natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma affect millions annually. Are there tools that can help victims cope with devastating losses? [Read More]

First Impressions: Could an Aging, Less Attractive Face Send the Wrong Message?

Research shows that those with aging faces may suffer the same unfair disadvantage in business that unattractive people encounter. Beauty may be only skin deep, but it brings substantial business advantages. [Read More]

How Much Does Your Appearance Matter?

Everyone knows that appearance makes a difference. Years of research shows just how much attractiveness affects income, career advancement, sales and vital first impressions. [Read More]

The Remarkable Rewards of Kindness

Research dispels the selfishness myth and reveals the outstanding benefits of paying it forward. [Read More]