If you’ve been following along, you won’t be surprised to learn that today’s positive psychology exercise targets the R in PERMA – improving well-being by strengthening your relationships. Chris Peterson, one of the key early researchers in the field of positive psychology, stated that the field could be summed up in three words: “Other people matter.”
Today’s exercise encourages you to connect with others – whether they are people you already have relationships with, or people you’ve never met – through acts of kindness. “Prosocial behavior” includes a wide range of actions you can take with the goal of benefiting others, ranging from everyday acts of kindness (like asking your neighbor if you can pick up things for them if you are already taking a trip to the store) to large-scale efforts to make positive change in the world. Prosocial behaviors don’t only benefit the recipients – they boost the well-being of the person doing the helping, as well.
If you have a great idea for an act of kindness, I’d love to hear how you are putting positive psychology into practice!
Today’s Positive Psychology Exercise: Practicing Acts of Kindness
Today’s exercise is simple: find one thing you can to do to be kind to another person. If you’re finding it hard to brainstorm ideas while maintaining social distancing, here are some suggestions:
- Text, email, or call someone you know who works in a healthcare field to thank them for the work they are doing.
- Compliment someone! Maybe one of your classmates is making great contributions to online discussion forums, or you’ve noticed that your neighbor is cultivating a beautiful garden. Let them know you’ve noticed (just make sure to do so from at least 6’ away).
- If you are able, consider making an appointment to donate blood to help address the critical need for donations. You can find locations and make an appointment through the American Red Cross.
- Stopping at the drive-through? Consider paying for the person behind you. Although folk wisdom suggests that “money can’t buy happiness,” it turns out that sometimes it can – if you spend it right! Spending money on other people provides a stronger boost for well-being than spending money on yourself.
Nelson, S. K., Layous, K., Cole, S. W., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2016). Do unto others or treat yourself? The effects of prosocial and self-focused behavior on psychological flourishing. Emotion, 16(6), 850-861. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000178
Abstract: When it comes to the pursuit of happiness, popular culture encourages a focus on oneself. By contrast, substantial evidence suggests that what consistently makes people happy is focusing prosocially on others. In the current study, we contrasted the mood- and well-being-boosting effects of prosocial behavior (i.e., doing acts of kindness for others or for the world) and self-oriented behavior (i.e., doing acts of kindness for oneself) in a 6-week longitudinal experiment. Across a diverse sample of participants (N = 473), we found that the 2 types of prosocial behavior led to greater increases in psychological flourishing than did self-focused and neutral behavior. In addition, we provide evidence for mechanisms explaining the relative improvements in flourishing among those prompted to do acts of kindness—namely, increases in positive emotions and decreases in negative emotions. Those assigned to engage in self-focused behavior did not report improved psychological flourishing, positive emotions, or negative emotions relative to controls. The results of this study contribute to a growing literature supporting the benefits of prosocial behavior and challenge the popular perception that focusing on oneself is an optimal strategy to boost one’s mood. People striving for happiness may be tempted to treat themselves. Our results, however, suggest that they may be more successful if they opt to treat someone else instead.