In a culture where we often glorify being “busy,” pay more attention to our phones than friends, and celebrate retail therapy, it’s no wonder Marie Kondo’s bestselling book and bingeable Netflix show about sparking joy to reduce clutter continue to be skyrocketing successes. We’re collectively clamoring for more joy, and here’s the good news: It can be simple to cultivate.
The even better news: It’s contagious. In a Harvard University study, researchers discovered what they dubbed the “Mother Teresa Effect”: Simply witnessing acts of kindness (such as those performed by Mother Teresa) may have a positive physiological response, even potentially improving immune function. Who knew kindness could be such a fulfilling spectator sport?
Here are three ways you can incorporate random acts of kindness into your daily life to be more present, release stress, and make a positive impact on others. After each act, journal about what you did and how it made you feel. Soon you’ll have a feel-good book full of inspiration for yourself and others, proving that you can be the joy you wish to see in the world. And keep in mind that these are just a handful of ways you can harness and multiply your joy; the options are endless.
1. Use your voice for good
How many times a day do you admire something about someone—strangers included—and keep it to yourself? Now imagine the impact of expressing those lovely thoughts. People around you would feel good, breathe a little easier, stand a little taller, and maybe even share some of their own kind words with the world. And you’d likely experience what psychologists call the “helper’s high,” a state of euphoria based on a theory that giving releases endorphins in the brain, leaving us with an emotional high.
- Carve out time for “appreciations” in a work meeting or at the family dinner table. Verbalizing what you’re grateful for in others will have exponential returns.
- Go out of your way to offer thoughtful compliments to those around you, taking care to be inclusive to those who may be easily overlooked in today’s youth- and beauty-obsessed society.
- Scroll through your social media feed and, instead of playing the comparison game, choose to champion others by dropping words of encouragement in the comments.
- Show the love. Write LinkedIn recommendations for colleagues or Yelp and Facebook reviews for your favorite small businesses and entrepreneur friends.
2. Give from a place of abundance
They say it is better to give than to receive; a study from the University of Texas at Austin and Duke University reported that people who practice kindness by volunteering experience less anxiety, depression, and pain, and those 55 or older were 44 percent less likely to die.
Sometimes we may think that we don’t have enough time or financial resources to be generous with others, but random acts of joy don’t need to take a lot of time or cost a thing. This is where creativity comes in. When we give from a place of abundance, knowing that there is more than enough for everyone, we receive so much in return, better health included.
- Connect with your local Buy Nothing group to give your unwanted items a new home. This is also a great way to meet your neighbors and build community.
- Store some small bags with fresh socks, protein bars, bottled water, and personal care items in your car. Offer them along with a kind smile to people in need as you encounter them. It feels so good for them to be seen.
- Gather the children in your life and set up an old-fashioned lemonade stand with a twist: Thirsty customers may pay only in jokes. Giggles abound.
- Show up at a nearby ball game or school graduation and cheer loudly, especially for the kids who may not have anyone present.
- Form an unofficial welcoming committee and hold up a banner in the arrivals section of your city’s airport. This is especially fun to do during the holidays when there’s an abundance of travelers.
Related: A Yogic Meditation on Love and Kindness
3. Play well with others
During heavy times and full weeks, play is the perfect anecdote to adulting. The ever-popular hashtag #SundayFunday is a weekly reminder that so many of us just want to let loose. Playful people are reported to have less stress and more coping strategies to adapt to life’s changes. So channel your inner child and get nostalgic about the things you loved to do when you were younger. Once you’ve decided on your shenanigans, it’s time to invite someone to come outside and play.
- Bring coloring books, play-doh, and board games to your local senior center, and witness the wondrous sparkle in their eyes.
- Use sidewalk chalk to write encouraging phrases or draw hopscotch squares in a public place and watch to see who jumps in.
- Use an extension cord to move your TV outside, pop some popcorn, set up blankets, and invite your neighbors to watch some good ol’ cartoons.
- Share your most treasured books and volunteer to read aloud to patients at a local hospital.