Kindness, Happiness and Mental Health – Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket
In a world where you can be anything, be kind, as the saying goes (I think it might be hanging up on a sign in our downstairs toilet at home!).
Yet, it’s kind of true isn’t it? I mean it must be because random acts of kindness even have their own day in the calender each year. And who hasn’t seen a video on TikTok or Facebook where someone shares their happiness after receiving some small unexpected act or token of kindness from someone else.
We all know that the receiver of an act of kindness generally gets a boost of positivity and happiness (and as a side note it’s my birthday soon, just saying!). Yet all to often it can seem that everyone you encounter has forgotten, or is yet to realise, the psychological benefits that can come from carrying out acts of kindness.
Most days I would say it’s fifty:fifty whether someone even acknowledges it if you hold a door open for them, lifts a hand and smiles if you give way in the car or nods their head and returns your ‘good morning’ when you walk past them. But hey, that’s their thing and not yours so you can just let it slide because the research tells us that giving acts of kindness can have a boost for your levels of happiness, your well-being and your mental health.
Kindness, Happiness and Mental Health
Before I get onto the wealth of research that supports kindness for boosting your mental health and happiness, I have my own little kindness story that reminded me of how these acts can make you feel as good as the recipient.
My wife loves doing a good jigsaw, it’s one of her ways of switching off and getting on with something relaxing yet mentally absorbing (although I’m starting to struggle to find any new ones of the kind she likes after seventeen years of marriage!). So there I was in a local charity shop and I spotted a cracking jigsaw that I knew she would love. Because as well as jigsaws, my wife loves the TV show Friends and would happily entertain you with various ad hoc sayings from the show and a sort of medley of events that happened in it.
So what did I find, this Friends jigsaw…result!
Not going to lie, I was pretty pleased with myself for that find, even if I did have to carry it under my arm all the way to the office and then later all the way home (like some mad Friends fanatic who wants the world to know how much he loves Joey). Even though it wasn’t for me, I felt good as I walked along looking forward to my wife’s reaction. In fact, I possibly felt a bit excited about handing it over and wanted her to have it there and then rather than after work. A small act of kindness that gave me a boost of well-being and happiness as much as it did for my wife.
Now, obviously you don’t have to go and buy someone a Friends jigsaw as an act of kindness (or even buy anything at all to be kind) and there is plenty of research that suggests why kindness should form part of your positive mental health activities.
Kindness tends to be a factor that supports happiness, and being happier tends to support having more satisfying social relationships, more pleasant everyday lives, greater satisfaction with life and experiencing more positive events and emotions in your daily life. No wonder so many of us ultimately just want to be healthy and happy. Being kind and being nice towards other people can help your mental health, well-being and positivity.
Now I like to think that if you are the sort of person who reads my articles then you are already a pretty kind sort of person. And if you are, then just paying attention to your own kind behaviour every day can help support your happiness levels.
Otake et at (2006), had people become more aware of their own kind behaviour towards other people every day for one week and to keep track of each and every act of kindness they performed as well as recording the daily number of these kind acts. They found a close association between kindness and happiness in everyday life with kind people experiencing more happiness.And so by simply paying more attention to kindness by counting the number of acts of kindness you do, you can become happier and more grateful. Being happy seems to lead to being more kind, and being more kind seems to lead to being happier.
While kind acts do not have to involve spending money, assuming your own basic needs are met, then spending on others can increase your own happiness (again, it doesn’t have to be a jigsaw, other products are available).
There is research supporting the idea that spending even small amounts on others can boost your own levels of happiness above the level if you spend it on yourself (Dunn et al, 2008). And in other research using data from over one hundred countries, spending on others was consistently associated with greater happiness (Aknin et al, 2013). It may well be a universal human psychological principle that you derive emotional benefits from using your financial resources to help others.
Kindness and Happiness
Even in times of struggle and distress, kindness and gratitude type interventions can be remarkably beneficial for you. In a study using outpatients on a waiting list for psychological treatment, enhancing gratitude by focusing on things you are grateful or thankful for over a two week period, led to enhanced satisfaction with life and connectedness with others, higher optimism, and reductions in anxiety (Kerr et al, 2015). They also found that focusing on acts of kindness for other people led to greater life satisfaction, increased optimism, increased connectedness with others and lower anxiety.
Even if you are currently experiencing psychological distress, such as anxiety, deliberately practising kindness and doing kind things towards others can increase your optimism and lower your anxiety (although it may take a couple of weeks to notice the benefit).
There is even more research that also supports the notion that performing kindness activities for seven days can increase your happiness (Rowland & Curry, 2019). What’s more, it seems that the more kind acts you do for others, the happier you will likely be. These kind acts can be directed towards family and friends, strangers and people you hardly know, or even involve observing acts of kindness.
Further, kindness can help support social connectedness, an important element of your well-being. If you are struggling with anxiety and depression then your sense of social connection may be impacted. Engaging in acts of kindness has been shown to help boost your social connectedness even if you have elevated levels of anxiety and depression (Cregg & Cheavens, 2022). In this study, participants were instructed to perform three acts of kindness each day for two days out of the week. These were to be big or small acts that benefit others or that make others happy and that have some sort of cost in terms of time or resources. The results demonstrated that improvements arose from acts of kindness in relation to social connection and life satisfaction, and there was a reduction in anxiety, stress and depression symptoms.
This ever growing accumulation of research and evidence suggests that, if you want to be happier, boost your sense of well-being and reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, then performing and paying deliberate attention to acts of kindness can bring you positive emotional and psychological rewards. And by adding in some equally simple gratitude practices to your acts of kindness, you can also find yourself feeling happier, experiencing more of a sense of well being and life satisfaction, and experiencing less distress such as anxiety.
The more acts of kindness you do, no matter who you do them for, the happier you will likely feel. Now of course, if you are struggling with anxiety or depression then you may need other support and strategies too. Yet to support and improve your mental health, given the simplicity of these things and the ease with which you can incorporate them into what you do, I think it makes sense to give kindness a go for a couple of weeks and then notice the difference.
In the meantime, there is a Friends jigsaw to be completed in our house while we all try and work out which episode or character all of those quotes came from!
To your happiness,
Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket
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Aknin, L.B., Barrington-Leigh, C.P., Dunn, E.W., Helliwell, J.F., Burns, J., Biswas-Diener, R., Kemeza, I., Nyende, P., Ashton-James, C.E. and Norton, M.I., 2013. Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), p.635.
Cregg, D.R. and Cheavens, J.S., 2022. Healing through helping: an experimental investigation of kindness, social activities, and reappraisal as well-being interventions. The Journal of Positive Psychology, pp.1-18.
Dunn, E.W., Aknin, L.B. and Norton, M.I., 2008. Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319(5870), pp.1687-1688.
Kerr, S.L., O’Donovan, A. and Pepping, C.A., 2015. Can gratitude and kindness interventions enhance well-being in a clinical sample?. Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(1), pp.17-36.
Otake, K., Shimai, S., Tanaka-Matsumi, J., Otsui, K. and Fredrickson, B.L., 2006. Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention. Journal of happiness studies, 7(3), pp.361-375.
Rowland, L. and Curry, O.S., 2019. A range of kindness activities boost happiness. The Journal of social psychology, 159(3), pp.340-343.