Kindness

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But it turns out lots of empirical evidence is suggesting that simple acts of kindness bring us happiness. But if I tell you in one week, just pick a day like on Friday, just do five acts of kindness, all of a sudden that's going to bump you up relative to your old subjective well-being in a pretty substantial way. And this is the premise of a recent book called Happy Money, which is by the two psychologists, Liz Dunn and Mike Norton, who've done some really, really cool work on this stuff.

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Now we’re going to do I think even the more interesting thing which is the kind of stuff we should be wanting but we don’t even know that we want yet. For the most part, when I kind of asked you guys at the beginning, what are the kinds of things that would make you happy, for the most part these things were left out. Though there are some seeds that folks got it right, so that’s good. Some of you are on to something here. But what’s the stuff that we’re just totally missing? One of the things, or just a reminder, it’s not the stuff. You’ve keep saying that but it’s still, it’s good to mess with your own forecast many, many times, which is why I keep repeating these things because you still think you want some of this stuff but you don’t. All right, so what is the good stuff? What are we not wanting because we don’t realize we should want it? One of the things that consistent work shows we should be seeking out more is opportunities to act more kindly to one another. We should be seeking out opportunities to do acts of kindness. Sounds less like the thing that your miswanting is telling you than getting good grades and getting a high salary. But it turns out this has much more happiness bang for your buck, just simply doing kind things. Again, it sounds like a cheesy, like Hallmark card or the kinds of things your grandmother sends you in bad fonts over Facebook or something like that. [LAUGH] But it turns out lots of empirical evidence is suggesting that simple acts of kindness bring us happiness. How do we know this? Well, the first thing we know is that if you just look at people who are happy versus people who are not happy. And you try to see, okay what’s the difference between those two? As we saw, it’s not salary, it’s not being married or not, it’s not all those things. But what it does seem to be is how many simple acts of kindness they do themselves that they notice in the world and they pay attention to. And this is what these researchers looked at. And they’re trying to see if there’s this connection between kindness and happiness. So they measure people’s subjective well-being. They divide them into two groups, the kind of very happy and the very unhappy. And then they ask them about their own instances of acting kindly. Both their motivation to act kindly, how much do you like to do kind things for others? Their memories of kindness, how much do you notice kind things in the world? Your own actions and others, and do you actually do kind behaviors? They have this big list of kind behaviors. And so what do you find? Well, what you find is that consistently, happier people are thinking about doing more kind things and are more motivated to do them. They’re having more recognition of kind acts so they remember them more. And if you actually look at kind behaviors, they are doing more than people who are unhappy. So already we’re getting some clues that happy people are thinking about kindness and so on, but this isn’t kind of causal. What would be nice is just force these unhappy people to do kinder things and try to see if does that bump up their happiness. And so this is the kind of thing that we can do. We can first just have people start thinking about kind actions in the world. Remember kind things that you did, or remember kind things that other people have done for you. Does merely thinking about kind actions make you happier? Well, what we do is have people think about these things. We ask participants to track each act of kindness that they do so this is like changing your reference point. You are a kind person. You’ve done these acts of kindness. I could do this today and say just list for me kind acts that you’ve done in the last couple of days, you would write them down. And then I test your happiness afterwards. You’re going to report these back to me and I’m going to make sure you did this. And I’m gonna see if I made you happier. And so here is what you find, when you do this. Here is the experimental condition we are having people think about their kind acts. And what you find is that on a pretty standard happiness score, you jump up almost a half to a whole point. Just thinking about that - you are not actually doing any more kind acts, you’re just thinking about the ones you’ve done. And all of a sudden, you’re starting to feel happier, which is pretty cool. But what if we actually have you increase the number of kind actions that you actually do, not just remember the stuff you’re already doing and focus on it, but actually do more stuff. Does that help us out? Well, this is what Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues have done, really have people do these acts of kindness. And so what they do is they give people the prompt over the next week or the next day. You’re to perform five random acts of kindness, so either in one day or across a whole week. Those are the different conditions on one day, on different days, or you do no acts of kindness, I just say, write about the events of your day instead. And the question is does this pop up happiness and here’s what we’re going to find, where we going to look at changes in subjective well-beings. They measure happiness at time one and they see whether kindness changes it. And here’s what we find. In the control condition, happiness is going down. Interestingly, if I have you do one act of kindness but on different days, we don’t see much of a change. The big kind of bang for our happiness buck is making you do a bunch of acts of kindness in a single day. Why? Probably just forces you to see them all and think about it all at once. But if I tell you in one week, just pick a day like on Friday, just do five acts of kindness, all of a sudden that’s going to bump you up relative to your old subjective well-being in a pretty substantial way. And so it seems like these acts of kindness are actually really making us feel better. This is not the happiness of the people who receive the act of kindness, it’s just our own happiness. We should be seeking out and doing more of this stuff. And this also leads to an explanation for one of the counter-intuitive effects we probably saw before, which is this other effect that we keep talking about, where increased salary isn’t making us that happy. We talked before about why that was because of hedonic adaptation, because we spend money on things in our experiences and things we get used to and so on. But one of them is that maybe we’re not using our salary to do as many kind things for others. Maybe if we kind of combine these things, getting some money but using that money to do something for somebody else is going to make us even happier. And this is the premise of a recent book called Happy Money, which is by the two psychologists, Liz Dunn and Mike Norton, who’ve done some really, really cool work on this stuff. Doing these interventions where they get people to spend money in different ways showing that it actually makes people happier. And they tested this idea that spending money on other people was going to be really important in a very cute way. So they walk up to people on the street. They say, do you want to be in a study? People say yes. They say, okay. Rate your subjective well-being. People rate it and they say, awesome, here’s 5 bucks, or here’s 20 bucks. They say, it’s just yours, this cool windfall. And the only rule is that you either have to spend it on yourself. So I give you five bucks. The rule is you gotta buy something nice for yourself sometime today, it’s great. Or you have to spend it on somebody else. That’s the only difference. And then you agree that I can call you later this afternoon. I can call you in a month. I can call you at different times and check how happy you are. People love this study and will be like, this is the best study ever, right? Interestingly, for the $5 condition, it turns out the modal thing that people do is to buy, to go to Starbucks and buy some sort of chai thing, right? It also turns out that that’s the modal thing you do for somebody else, because you have to spend $5 on somebody else sometime today. Easy thing to do is to get them a really delicious chai or something. Sometimes you can have exactly the same thing purchased. The question is when they call later that day, which of the two sets of subjects is happier? And so here is what people predict because they also ask people, if you were in the study and I did this to you and I called you, which would you be happier in? People’s predictions are twofold. People predict I am totally going to be happier if I spend that on myself than if I spend that on somebody else like duh, right? They also make a prediction about the money. They say I’m going to be way happier if I spend the 20 bucks than if I spend the 5 bucks. because obviously 20 bucks is 4 times better than the 5 bucks, right? But it turns out that what really happens is different. What really happens is you get a super strong significant effect that the money you spend on other people makes you happier than the money you spend on yourself, which is pretty cool. The other thing you find is that it doesn’t matter how much money you spend. So the folks that spend $20 on somebody else are just as happy as the folks that spend $5. It doesn’t matter the amount. And again, this tells us two things. One is it is the case that doing kind things with our money for other people is good, but we also don’t realize that. This is another spot where we are miswanting in a bad way. Liz Dunn and her colleagues have now done a bunch of different studies on this to look at the mechanisms of this. And this is one of the most robust effects, I think, in the field of psychology right now. And one of my favorite follow-ups that she did asked two questions. It first asked, well, these studies were originally done at UBC, which is where Liz Dunn is a professor. And maybe there’s just something strange about these happy folks in Canada. They have all this money. They’re happy Canadians. Can we see this in other cultures too? And so they ran this experiment in a bunch of other cultures. I’ll tell you just about one, which is that they did this in a rural town outside of Kampala in Uganda. This also allowed them to do a second thing, which is yeah, spending $5 on somebody else makes us happier than spending it on ourselves but $5 is like, it’s just $5, right? It’s not like a real amount of money. They couldn’t do in UBC studies that cost a real amount of money because like grants and they don’t have that much money to do them. But to take the same experiment and run it in Uganda, they could actually give people in that population a pretty substantial amount of money. Because sadly in this town where they were running this sort of thing, $20 isn’t just like oh I’ll buy a couple of chais. Sadly, it’s like, I could get my family HIV medication for the month. These are like real amounts of money to the people there, right? And so the question is first, do you see the same effect across cultures? And do you see the same effect when the amount of money in question is a real amount of money that you’re not spending on yourself, that you’re spending on somebody else. What you find is that the very same magnitude of that happiness effect seems to exist across the cultures. It doesn’t matter if you’re just buying somebody a chai or you’re getting their family crucial medication for their family, that you give up to have for yourself. You’re still getting the same effect where spending on others makes you happier than spending on yourself. And so it continues across cultures, and it continues across income levels to some interesting extent. And so the upshot is that it seems like acting in a way that’s kind, whether it be kind of random acts of kindness that you do for people that you just remember, or that you do extra. Or that involves actually spending money is a thing that we don’t realize is going to make us happy, but even really does. And even when I ask you about the specifics of it, you don’t realize it’s going to help, but it does. So this should get plopped out of your miswanting and into your real wanting.

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