Doing things for others – whether small, unplanned acts or regular volunteering – is a powerful way to boost our own happiness as well of those around us. The people we help may be strangers, family, friends, colleagues or neighbours. They can be old or young, nearby or far away.
Giving isn’t just about money, so you don’t need to be rich. Giving to others can be as simple as a single kind word, smile or a thoughtful gesture. It can include giving time, care, skills, thought or attention. Sometimes these mean as much, if not more, than financial gifts.
Scientific studies show that helping others boosts happiness. It increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduced stress. It can help to take our minds off our own troubles too.
Kindness towards others is be the glue which connects individual happiness with wider community and societal wellbeing. Giving to others helps us connect with people and meets one of our basic human needs – relatedness.
Kindness and caring also seem to be contagious. When we see someone do something kind or thoughtful, or we are on the receiving end of kindness, it inspires us to be kinder ourselves. In this way, kindness spreads from one person to the next, influencing the behaviour of people who never saw the original act. Kindness really is the key to creating a happier, more trusting local community.
Make this the year you help yourself by helping others. Here are three ways:
1. Offer Kindness Proactively
Pay attention to the people around you and what you can do to make their lives a little easier. An act of kindness, any simple gesture can improve someone’s day. Let a car in front of you on the highway. Hold the door or elevator, and call a friend to see how they’re doing. Check in on an elderly neighbor or bring dinner to someone who has been facing illness or a tough time. Being friendly and thoughtful can make a huge difference, and maintaining good relationships is actually good for your heart.
2. Volunteer Your Time
Community service is one of the best ways to improve the lives of others. Donating your time allows you to connect with your community and make it a better place. Volunteer work is also flexible: You can participate as much as your schedule allows, and you can choose opportunities that fit your interests and hobbies. The possibilities are endless:
- Volunteer at a local school.
- Help at a food bank.
- Clean up a local park or beach.
- Teach someone a skill.
- Offer assistance to a local animal shelter or retirement home.
Reach out to libraries, religious organizations and community colleges to see if they sponsor any volunteer groups. You can find more options online at Volunteermatch.org.
3. Donate to a Cause
Few things are as easy or provide as much instant gratification as donating money to people in need. Recent research suggests that giving to charity may actually make the giver happier and healthier. There are many ways to donate money to charities online or in your local community. Another resolution-worthy way to donate? Ask people to support a certain charity in lieu of giving you a birthday or Christmas gift.