Operation Kindness

“So, being kind makes you happier. Obviously. Thanks, science!”

So says Julian, host of SoulPancake’s The Science Of Happiness video series, before launching an investigation into why, exactly, this is the case.

In 2005, a study was conducted, proving that engaging in deliberate acts of kindness leads to greater well-being, with the caveat that the act is done in a way that exceeds an individual’s propensity to be kind. In other words, going out of your way for an act of kindness, above and beyond your day-to-day engagement with others.

The team at SoulPancake decided to put this logic to the test in typically outsize fashion. With the intention of measuring just how much happiness levels would increase, they planned an entire day of increasingly kind acts for a handful of volunteers to perform around town.

Starting out with the simple act of returning carts in a grocery store parking lot, the team ramped up their activities with the purchase of takeout and coffee, valet service, and a car wash, leaving an unexpected $40 tip for each service. They went a step further afterward, bringing the food to people in true need of the help.

The next phase involved approaching random strangers and giving them heartfelt compliments, in an attempt to clearly breach the threshold of normal everyday activity. This was the setup for the final act: each volunteer thought of someone in their life who was in need of encouragement and kindness, and gave them a thoughtful, sometimes difficult phone call.

Measuring the volunteers before and after the event revealed an average increase in happiness of 9.3%. The highest increase was at an amazing 22%! In light of the findings, Julian posited, “Why is it, that just doing little acts of kindness, doesn’t really make you feel that much better?” The answer is that, like everything positive in life, we begin to take it for granted. The phenomenon is known as hedonistic adaptation.

The positive flip side to this realization is that we can playfully subvert our own tendency to filter out the positive nature of our acts of kindness. We must “actively plan out experiences which throw off the pattern,” as Julian says. Consciously engaging with kindness in a proactive manner is not only a boost to our own happiness levels; it spreads the feeling to others in a most profound way!