I always hold open doors for moms with strollers. Now I was never a let-the-door-shut in your face kind of person, but when I see a mom coming up to a door with a stroller and coffee/cell phone/diaper bag/toddler in hand, I high tail it to the door to open it up for them. Why? Because I’ve been there. Especially now that I’m strollerless, I can appreciate what it’s like to push a MacLaren stroller with one hand, a vanilla latte in your other and wonder…how will I open this door and not spill hot foam on my daughter’s head?
As it turns out, it’s little acts like these that can give us a boost of happiness that lasts longer than we think reports a new study from York University. The almost 700 participants in the study noted that small, regular acts of compassion — some taking no longer than 15 minutes a day — provided those doing the act with a boost in self-esteem and happiness that they felt as long as six months later. To find out more, I called Myriam Mongrain, associate professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health and researcher with the study.
Q: How did this study come to be?
A: This was done as an effort to add to the body of research and psychology, this new branch of positive psychology that is looking at what would help people flourish and how can we be at our best? So we conducted a compassionate action exercise—I felt like people spent so much time inwards, improving their appearance or getting recognition and I knew that these types of goals brought satisfaction but not long-lasting satisfaction. So I wanted to get people to look outside themselves and on others.
Q: So your key finding was that these small acts of kindness had long-term effects?
A: They had effects that lasted for several months, even. I think it’s sort of twice-blessed when you perform an act of kindness. The recipient believes maybe it’s not such a harsh world, and you feel good about being good to others.
Q: So what can our readers take away from your study?
A: Prioritize being kind, helping and supporting others. Make it a priority — so in your day make it something you seek out to do. I came across this quote from Martin Luther King that says “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?” The great thinkers understood that.
Mongrain is continuing to study this area of happiness and acts of kindness so if you’d like to participate, log onto www.projecthopecanada.com to find out more.
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