I came across this small but useful study from Oxford researchers, and it caught my attention because it’s one more bit of evidence of the underlying interconnectedness. It shows that doing something positive for others enhances our own happiness. And that’s especially helpful to bear in mind during these polarized times in our culture, as we arrived at the 2016 election day for a new President.
The review of the 400 studies found that the effect is lower than some pop-psychology articles have claimed. But the researchers pointed out that future research might help identify which kind acts are most effective at boosting happiness. For example, they noted that existing research doesn’t distinguish between kindness to family and friends versus strangers. So, taking this into account, targeted kindness rather than indiscriminate kindness may have a greater effect on happiness.
The study brought to my mind the observation that the teachings from most spiritual and philosophical traditions converge around this: That the greater joy and happiness one experiences occurs from doing something positively for others; from giving to others.
For example, this from the Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927): “A person who, alone, has seen something beautiful, who has heard something harmonious, who has tasted something delicious, who has smelt something fragrant, may have enjoyed it, but not completely. The complete joy is in sharing one’s joy with others. For the selfish one who enjoys himself and does not care for others, whether he enjoys things of the earth or things of heaven, his enjoyment is not complete.”
The Oxford study’s lead author Oliver Scott Curry pointed out that “Our review suggests that performing acts of kindness will not change your life, but might help nudge it in the right direction. We recommend further research is done to compare the effects of being kind to family and friends as opposed to strangers. This is an area about which we know surprisingly little at the moment.”
The latter is true from the standpoint of academic research, and it’s good to establish empirical data that further documents. But it’s also good to keep in mind that much empirical knowledge concurs with ancient philosophical and spiritual teachings that extend back thousands of years. And that convergence is good to recognize!
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