Imagine you are kind to a stranger, but instead of thanking you, the stranger is rude to you and ungrateful. Calls you a ‘creepy do-gooder’. How would you feel?
Most likely, you would feel confused and hurt. Perhaps even a little bitter.
It’s not our act of kindness which makes us happy, it’s being appreciated for it. If the person turned to you and beamed an appreciative smile, you would feel good. If the person cried with joy you would remember that moment for the rest of your life. Because you felt valued.
When we are kind to someone and feel valued for it, we help satisfy our ‘deep need to belong’ and add to our happiness.
Therefore, to say ‘kindness brings happiness’ is misleading. No, we need to feel valued. Being kind is just one way to feel valued.
Some people gain little or no benefit from being kind (which explains why some people aren’t kind!), so telling them to perform acts of kindness is pointless. However, they can feel valued in other ways, and maintain their core happiness.
‘. . . your neighbour is unwell and you take their dog for a walk; you might do so because you genuinely want to help them at this difficult time, or you might do it resentfully. The first will make you feel good, the second won’t.’
The example from John-Paul Flintoff’s book ‘How to Change the World’.
In short, if you enjoy performing acts of kindness, go for it! Acting kindly and being appreciated for it is a great way to feel valued! You will satisfying your deep need to belong, and adding to your core happiness.
Not only that, every time you act kindly, with no expectation of a reward, you are telling the recipient, ‘You are worthy‘. That’s a wonderful message to send anyone!
But don’t feel that to be happy you have to be kind. No. It doesn’t work that way. If we want to be happier we need to focus not on being kind, but on feeling valued, and there are multiple ways to feel valued. We explore them in other parts of this book. We also explore something else equally important: how to help others feel valued.
Q. ‘Studies prove there is a link between happiness and being kind.’
I’m not surprised. Being kind is a common and effective way to satisfy our need to feel appreciated. Studies should look at the relationship between happiness and how much a person feels valued in day-to-day life. That would be more revealing.
Q. ‘We still get pleasure from being kind when we don’t experience the recipient’s gratitude. Putting a coin in an expired parking meter . . .’
How often does that happen? And would we do it if the person didn’t notice? Or if they took the gesture for granted?
We do those things because we assume the recipient will be pleased; we imagine their pleasure. For many of us, that’s enough.
‘I feel good when I give money to charity and never see the recipient benefit. And, I might give a dollar to a homeless person who won’t bother thanking me.’
Would you give so freely again if the charity’s receipt didn’t include a ‘thank you’? Would you continue to be generous to the same homeless person the next time you passed them?
Then you’re focusing on your need to contribute. Good stuff.
‘I suppose some of us love the idea of being found out, too.’
‘No act of kindness, however small, is wasted.’
Q. If we are kind, won’t we always feel valued?
(1) The magic bit is to be appreciated for it. If the recipient is rude and ungrateful we won’t feel valued.
(2) We might cease feeling valued if we receive all the gratitude we could want, and more. Once our ‘cup is full’, more gratitude won’t make a difference. Mother Theresa, the nun helping the homeless in Calcutta, spent a good chunk of her life being kind. From what I have heard she was cranky. Either her efforts were taken for granted, or her ‘cup was overflowing’ and gratitude no longer meant anything to her.
Some people work hard for others, and even if they are paid, when the thanks stop coming and they begin to be taken for granted, it can hurt.
Q. When parents perform acts of kindness for their kids they are usually taken for granted.
Parents find ways to feel appreciated by their kids, but you’re right. Imagine how much more rewarding the job of being a parent would be if kids thanked their parents more often?
Q. ‘If being kind can help us feel valued, why aren’t people kind more often?’
(1) Some people have poor self-worth and don’t allow themselves to feel valued. They gain no benefit from being kind.
(2) Some people lack empathy, and can’t fathom how pleased the recipient of a kind act would be.
(3) Being kind requires a vulnerability, because it can set you up for rejection or for being taken for granted. Some people aren’t ready for that.
(4) Perhaps unkind people have lost their fear of people’s disapproval, and find that liberating. Perhaps each time they are unkind they can liberate themselves a little more, and feel a little less anxious and a little more powerful?
Each time we are unkind we lose our connection with humanity, and weaken our sense of belonging. Such people look for other ways to feel valued.
Q. Are some people, like hardened criminals, unkind because they have lost the capacity to contribute and feel valued? And feel connected?
That could be one reason. Hardened people may have given up on the idea they could be valued, by anyone. The concept may be alien to them. Not having that bond with humanity might prompt them to be harsh, or fearful, or isolated, with the people they meet.
‘Maybe that’s why they wear their crime as a badge of honour, to give themselves value?’
I don’t know. Do criminals wear their crime as a badge of honour?
‘Maybe our prison system could focus on helping the inmates feel valued? By helping them to contribute in some way?’
That sounds good! Though let’s not hold our breath. Many prisons are run by private, profit making companies.
Q. Is it hard to feel valued?
It’s easy, if we ‘let it in’, because we crave it. A person working at a help-desk may feel drained after receiving countless complaints and rudeness. Fortunately, a thankful recipient can often make up for that. A little appreciation can go a long way!
Q. ‘If we are kind, can we expect something in return?’
If you will be expecting something in return, it’s a transaction. Inform the other person of their obligation to you before you do them the ‘favour’.
If you do ask for compensation that will decrease the other person’s appreciation, and your opportunity to feel valued and connected. It’s when we give freely we benefit most. That’s when we strengthen the bond we have with humanity. That’s when we feel connected, and add to our core happiness.
Here are some other happiness myths:
– The positive thinking myth. We are often told that we need to look on the bright side if we want to be happy. We need to see the glass half full. But is that helpful advice?
– Myth: we need money to be happy. Surely we need money to be happy, don’t we? Without it we would be in dire straits. So, why is it a myth?
– Myth: We are happier with only a few possessions. Will having fewer possessions make us feel happier? How does that work?
– Myth: We need to suffer before we can be happy. Helen Keller once said: ‘The hilltops would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.’ Is she right?
– Myth: We need to reach our full potential. The life coaches offer to help us become better people, yet in another breath tell us to accept ourselves for who we are. What’s going on?
– Myth: With wisdom comes happiness. Time and again we see in the movies a strong correlation between wisdom and happiness. Do we need to be wise to be happy?
– Myth: We need close relationships to be happy. It’s the biggest, most common myth about happiness of them all. Nearly everyone says it. Yet, it’s not true.
– Myth: We need good health to be happy. That seems obvious, doesn’t it? After all, we won’t be happy suffering the black plague. But does good health bring core happiness?
– Myth: We can choose to be happy. This is one of the most pernicious myths going around. Of course we can’t choose to be happy!
– Myth: Happiness comes from having low expectations. Don’t expect much and you won’t be disappointed, goes the saying. But does that equal happiness? Of course not.
– Myth: We need to foster compassion to be happy. The Buddhists are particularly keen on the idea of fostering compassion. So, should we foster it?