There's a link between being kind to others and happiness, UBC researcher says

·3 min read
UNBC's Random Acts of Kindness Club aims to make kind acts an everyday occurrence. (Submitted by UNBC Random Acts of Kindness Club - image credit)
UNBC's Random Acts of Kindness Club aims to make kind acts an everyday occurrence. (Submitted by UNBC Random Acts of Kindness Club - image credit)

Today marks World Kindness Day, and it turns out that being kind toward others may be key to our own happiness, a psychology expert says.

Studies have shown a "causal link where, when people behave in this generous, kind way, they actually end up happier themselves," said Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor and happiness researcher from the University of British Columbia (UBC).

"Frankly, I find it very reassuring that humans have this sort of baked-in tendency to experience joy from helping others," she told CBC's The Early Edition on Friday.

World Kindness Day traces its origins to Tokyo, where it was first introduced as part of the World Kindness Movement in 1998.

Now, nearly 30 countries around the world, including Canada, are part of the movement and mark the day in November.

Dunn said her happiness research is conducted by "changing the conditions that people are facing" and seeing the results.

In one experiment, researchers walked up to randomly selected people on UBC's campus, gave them either a $5 or $20 bill, and asked them to spend the money by the end of the day.

Half were told to spend the cash to benefit someone else and the other half were asked to use the money to benefit themselves.

"At the end of the day, [the subjects] don't really know what the experiment is about. We just asked them about their day and asked them to rate how happy they felt," Dunn said.

"What we saw in that experiment is that people felt happier after using this money to benefit others than after using it to benefit themselves."

Dunn said the study suggests that treating others with kindness is more effective for promoting our own happiness than treating ourselves.

UNBC club aims to make kindness an everyday thing

That's the purpose of a new student club at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) Prince George campus.

The Random Acts of Kindness Club was started by two students earlier this year and aims to make random acts of kindness an everyday occurrence.

"We want more kindness on the UNBC campus," said Nadia Mansour, the co-founder of the club.

"Everybody is going through the motions of life and we're all going through something. I think that you can never have enough kindness and that's what we're here to do, just spread that positivity around campus and Prince George as a whole."

Submitted by UNBC Random Acts of Kindness
Submitted by UNBC Random Acts of Kindness

The club has about 15 members that partake in public displays promoting mental health and kindness, as well as volunteering with St. Vincent De Paul Society, a Catholic charity, once a month.

"The biggest thing is just leading by example, and we definitely always encourage all the club members to go out and pay it forward," Mansour said.

"Even I get surprised by just how much [the members] truly believe in the message of kindness."

Afrin Begum is the other half of the club's leadership duo, and she said she notices that doing acts of kindness contributes to her personal happiness.

"I definitely think that is true, that when you're kind, you feel a happiness," Begum said.

"We just want to give back to whoever will take our kindness, basically."

Being kind to ourselves is also important

At the same time, Dunn said being kind to others — and yourself — is more important than ever during the pandemic, when many are experiencing isolation and a disconnect from their social circles.

"Being kind, helping somebody else out can kind of remind us how much we're capable of ourselves," Dunn said.

"The form of kindness that is perhaps most beneficial for ourselves is really all about self-compassion ... that same sort of gentle compassion that we would extend to a treasured friend or maybe a younger person in our life that we care about."

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