There is nothing particularly profound or earth-shaking in this blog post, to be honest. Just a little reminder of something that we should all know, but which is easy to overlook.
Recently, I ran across an article online called “Even the Smallest Acts of Generosity Make You Happier, New Study Reveals.” Its thesis is pretty simple. In fact, the title says it all.
However, what might be common sense is now validated by researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. They used “functional magnetic resonance imaging,” which measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow (blood flow is greater in an area of the brain when it is in use) on two sets of subjects. Each group was given money, and told to be either generous and buy something for someone else, or to be “selfish” and do something only for themselves. The MRI was used to judge the physical effect.
The first group, the unselfish people, showed a definite “warm glow” in brain scans. Their brains were more engaged and active, which evidently reflects that they were feeling happier. The brains of the stingy people, however, showed no such effect. Moreover, it wasn’t the degree of generosity that led to the “warm glow.” Just the stated intention of benevolence was enough, meaning that you start to feel happier even before doing anything, although I would imagine that the actual doing of a kindness would lead to a more lasting effect (the article didn’t address this point).
I was amused that complicated medical technology and fancy-pants credentials all point to something that anyone’s mother probably already could have told us, but it’s useful to be reminded. There can’t be too many of us that haven’t felt pretty good about making a bit of a difference to someone we care about, or even to a stranger. A big open smile and the grateful appreciation you get in return has to make even the most miserly person feel a bit better.
As for me, I get cynical about trendy things in popular media, so I imagine I was pretty sarcastic about the “random acts of kindness” stuff that was so popular a few years back. Nonetheless, there was a point to it. “Creating the world that I want to live in” is how I think about it. If I do something kind that makes someone feel noticed and important, I tell myself that I’ve made for a nicer world, if only in my little part of it. Not earth-shaking to be sure, but I’d like to think that if I help someone out a bit that both of us are more likely to turn around and do the same to another person.
So, if you see someone whose tire is low on air and you think maybe they don’t know, take a moment to point it out, so they can get it fixed. Or maybe you can let someone cut in line at the grocery store who only has a few items or appears to be in a hurry (this has been done for me more than once). Your impulse will be to do it for them, but it could make your day as well.