It can feel difficult to find joy in the best of times. Which is why new research that says it might be easier than you think to boost your daily joy is so welcoming. Researchers from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkley, inspired by the decades-long friendship between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, set out to determine if daily small acts of kindness can set the stage for Big Joy. Spoiler: They can. Here’s how.
The research team, led by the Greater Good science director Emiliana Simon-Thomas, created a week-long road map of “micro acts” of kindness — small, little acts of kindness to others or shifting your perspective about things in your life — in order to determine which acts brought the most joy to which people and whether those results were cumulative.
On the first day of the experiment, volunteers from around the globe answered a series of questions describing their well-being and emotional state and other similar questions. For the next seven days, participants were asked to engage in one of the following activities as described in the release for the project:
- Do something kind: Think of people you might see today and list one thing you could do to brighten their day.
- Tune in to what matters: Rank important personal values such as kindness, humility, and accountability and write about how they appear in your life.
- Make a gratitude list: Think, reflect, and list anything you feel grateful about in your life.
- Dwell in awe: Watch an awe-inspiring video, like the world’s natural wonders.
- Celebrate another’s joy: Talk to someone today and ask them about a story that made them happy.
- Shift your perspective: Recall a moment when you felt upset and frustrated. Think and write three positive things about that experience.
- Be a force of good: Listed to an audio-guided reflection on how you inherently contribute goodness into the world.
Participants then recorded their micro-acts and answered a series of questions about their emotional responses to their micro-acts. After seven days, participants took another survey, reassessing their emotional state and attitudes.
Based on survey responses, the research team determined that overall emotional well-being increased by a staggering 26%, and positive emotions jumped up 23%. People felt more agency in controlling their emotions and improving their own well-being. Thirty percent of participants said they felt more comfortable and confident in their relationships, and 12% reported improved sleep patterns.
In other words, these results suggest that regularly engaging in small, nice things can unlock notable positive impacts on overall well-being, which can spell big improvements in mental and physical health. We’ve all heard “it’s the little things that count,” but now we know that’s not just a trope — it’s science!
Doing something nice — either for yourself or for someone else — will make you feel better, live better, and be happier.
This study was featured in the documentary Mission: JOY: Finding Happiness in Troubled Times — which is a helpful addendum to this story. Other helpful hints from past Fatherly coverage: Clean that thing you know that your spouse hates cleaning. Stretch for 20 minutes every morning. Become that family that welcomes new neighbors with a baked good — like banana bread, which rocks. Or make your kid the lunch of their dreams just because. After all, it’s the little things that count — and set you on a path to more joy.