The Kindness of Friends

Research shows that acts of kindness bring happiness -- to the giver

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The first call came a week into my husband’s recovery from heart surgery. “It’s Charles. Just checking on the patient. How’s he feeling? Is he up for a quick conversation?” Putting the lie to the myth that men don’t have the kinds of close friendships that women do, Charles and my husband, Joel, both in their seventies, had been friends since college. They might have preferred talking about work or politics over sharing feelings, but their friendship was deep and obviously lasting. It had also expanded over the years to make space for their wives and children to share the love. So I wasn’t surprised to get Charles’ call either that first week, or on a weekly basis during the months of difficult recovery that followed.

I only hoped that his kindness and generosity to his friend fed his soul as much as it nurtured Joel’s.  Charles was not checking in with Joel for any kind of personal reward, other than perhaps the lift of hearing that his good friend was making steady progress toward recovery. But research would suggest that he might have gotten something out of it – other than deepening his friendship even further, and earning my gratitude as he helped Joel through some of the most difficult days of our life together – even though self-gratification was the farthest thing from his mind

A review of 24 studies of the psychological effects of kindness and found that that performing acts of kindness boosts happiness and well-being. It did not matter whether the recipient was a friend, family member, or stranger; nor did the boost to an overall sense of contentment seem to hinge on things like the gender, race, religion, or socio-economic class of either giver or recipient of these caring behaviors.

Follow up studies by the researchers conducting this analysis found that performing kindness activities for seven days increased feelings of happiness in participants in these studies. They also found that the more acts of kindness we perform, the happier we feel. And once again, these researchers found that it did not matter whether there were strong ties or no ties at all between the person offering an act of kindness or the person receiving it.

In addition, this research discovered that simply observing acts of kindness can make us happier. I can vouch for this. I hope that Charles felt good after making those phone calls; but I know that Joel and I both felt happier as a result of his thoughtfulness and generosity.

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