If you’re looking for something simple to lift you from a bad mood, a random act of kindness might just help. Although at first glance the gesture might not be about you, research shows that being kind to others can make us feel happier.
Cooperating with others or deciding to be generous activates an area of the brain called the striatum. This area responds to things we find rewarding. The ‘warm glow’ we get from helping others corresponds with activity we see in the striatum and researchers think that this is likely the biological basis of that feeling.
Being kind to someone is an opportunity to strengthen a friendship or make a social connection, both of which are linked to improved mood.
And if your act of kindness works, then a shared smile also works to make you feel happier. A key theory in neuroscience suggests that seeing someone else show an emotion automatically activates the same areas of our own brain. It’s almost as if we experienced that particular emotion for ourselves.
If you’re having a terrible day at work and you can’t find time to make a connection with someone new, then research has also shown that spending extra money on other people may be more powerful in increasing happiness than spending it on yourself. A thoughtful gift might help cheer you up.
And of course, there’s also the chance that your act of kindness might be returned at some point - and so your generosity could buy yourself future happiness.