The independent charity, Action for Happiness, observes that positive emotions – like joy, interest, pride and gratitude – don’t just feel pleasant now – they also affect our long-term well-being. Research shows that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio to negative ones leads to a tipping point beyond which we naturally become more resilient to adversity and better able to achieve things. The science behind this shows that when we give to others, it activates the areas of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust. Such altruistic behaviour releases endorphins in the brain and boosts happiness for us as well as the people we help. So, if you want to be happy, be kind.
Kindness can be simple such as a smile, a thank-you or a word of encouragement. It doesn’t have to cost anything or take much time. What is important is that it’s an act of genuine care and thoughtfulness for another person. Kindness can bring civility to the workplace. It is not about being ‘soft’ or fudging issues. It is about dealing with others as you wish to them to deal with you. Next time you are tempted to criticise someone, stop and think about what it will achieve. If a correction is needed, do this in a constructive manner and with kindness.
Why not set yourself a 30-day challenge to do one act of kindness a day? Action for Happiness has a kindness calendar which is a brilliant resource if you want to give it a try. To find out more and download the Action for Happiness Ten 10 Keys to Happier Living.
Kindness can be extended to yourself as well as others. You might want to try a simple Loving Kindness Meditation like the one suggested by the British Mindfulness Institute. In this short meditation you send unconditional love to yourself and others. Practicing this meditation increases happiness in part by making people feel more connected to others. Research suggests that when people practice loving kindness meditation regularly, they start automatically reacting more positively to others—and their social interactions and close relationships become more satisfying.
How to do it. Start by getting comfortable. You can do this meditation sitting or lying down – whatever works for you. The mediation can take just 5 minutes or longer if you like. Take a minute to feel grounded before beginning. Focus on being totally in the moment and enjoy the sensation of being unhurried. Simply be with your breath without manipulating or trying to change it. If distracting thoughts arise then acknowledge them and then return to the practice. Then let the words below become your words. You can say these words out loud or think them:
- May I be happy
- May I be healthy
- May I ride the waves of my life
- May I know love
- May I have peace
If feelings arise within you just notice them and let them be. When you are ready, think of someone you care for and let these words become your words:
- May you be happy
- May you be healthy
- May you ride the waves of your life
- May you know love
- May you have peace
You can also choose to repeat the above while directing your thoughts to someone with whom you may have a difficult relationship. Now think about the wider community of which you are a part. Perhaps your family, your workmates, your friends or further out into the world. Including yourself in this offering of loving kindness, as you let these words become your words:
- May we be happy
- May we be healthy
- May we ride the waves of our lives
- May you know love
- May we have peace
Pause to notice the sensations and feelings that arise within you. Sit with them for a few moments until you are ready to carry on with your day. Try it today and explore for yourself the power of kindness as a strategy for achieving personal happiness.