Acts of Unexpected Kindness

October 15, 2009Topic: Acts of Unexpected Kindness: Perfect Food for Your Soul Competency # 25  Community Reference: Sonya Lyubomirsky, “The How of Happiness” Published 2008 Sonya Lyubomirsky is our leading social scientist studying happiness.   She is a professor of psychology at UCLA.  This is one lovely book that I’ve just devoured with fascination.  Her research shows some interesting issues in regards to “happiness”, her focus and interest.  For one, about 50% of your happiness is genetic.  You get that half dealt to you.  You can prove that from twin studies who are identical versus fraternal.  If you are naturally a sunny personality, be grateful for your genes.  If you aren’t, the good news is that the remaining half has room to wiggle. Only about 10% of your state of happiness comes from your circumstances.  This means fully 40% comes from activities you have control over.   Ten percent circumstances explain a lot about folks who win lotteries not being any better off after a year or so.  It also gives hope to anyone who has had a personal life blow dealt to them.  Your natural baseline will come back in time. Sonya gives us 12 tools to work with in this book.  To introduce you to her ideas, I’m just going to highlight the concept of “Acts of Kindness”.  Most of us are charitable and kind out of altruistic and decent community motives.   That’s good.  Hang on to that.  But you can do more.  Intentionally planning acts of kindness into your day will make you personally happy.  The pursuit of happiness!  It’s good for your own mental health. There’s just a bit of nuance to how you do it.   As she says, “Timing is everything”.  Pick one day of the week and plan to do one big act, and a couple of little ones.  Interestingly enough, doing something every day doesn’t lead to an increase in happiness scores.  You just get burdened and resentful.  You have to do it in bunches, a big one or three little ones.  But all must happen on one day, and with intentional planning.  Let yourself revel in the planning.  Make a meal for someone.  Write a thank you letter. Take time to do an errand that’s unexpected.  It doesn’t have to be far from home.  Do it for your coworkers, your spouse, your kids or your teacher. And “Variety” is the spice of life.  You can’t get into a rut.  A new idea, a new plan, a new plot to surprise someone is critical to get the “happiness effect”.  The winner is “both of you”.  Your recipient gets a sweet, unexpected surprise.  You feel good inside.  Your happiness score goes UP.    It doesn’t take money.  It takes time and attention.  Writing a letter, making a phone call, helping someone weed their garden, take out their trash or cross a street is all that it takes.  It takes some effort to think up the variety and plan ahead.  It can be as little as giving the gift of “Hello, John”.  Calling someone by name and greeting them with a smile, works wonders if you aren’t in the habit of doing it.   Make it into a habit, one day a week.  Soon, it will become part of you as you learn the new habit. WWW:  What will work for me?  I need a little food for the soul.  This is a sacred time of year for many of us in our faith traditions.   I’m trying to think about how I can relate gently and kindly to the world I encounter.  I’ve tried this now for two weeks and Sonya is onto something.   We are a nation in the pursuit of happiness, aren’t we?  When I look around and see people I admire and want to emulate, I see the kindness of their actions and their intentions.  In the hospital world, we call it “Planetree Service”.  In my faith community, we call it “Smiles and Trials.”   At home, call it your own happiness.  You are the real winner.