Everyone wants to be happy—in fact many of us want to be happier than we already are. And while random acts of kindness and volunteering have been shown to boost not only other people’s moods, but yours too, sometimes, these actions backfire. Why? The ways we go about trying to reach that elusive state of joy may be flawed. Big goals—ending poverty, helping homeless pets, or saving the planet—can, instead of leading to success, lead to unrealistic, unattainable hopes (and thus, disappointment). It’s the smaller, more concrete goals that may be the key to bliss, according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. [Tweet this fact!]
It’s the small stuff that’s more realistic (and even tangible). Specific actions and goals can produce immediate effects, that, when they build and build create a new, more joyful outlook. A sense of accomplishment—even on a daily level—gives you a greater sense of well being, the researchers note.
So how can you get that philanthropic fuzzy feeling every single day? Here are five easy changes to make today.
Instead of: Trying to make a friend happy
Try: Making them smile. Give them a card out of the blue or deliver a compliment that you’d normally keep to yourself. Seeing someone’s smile will not only be immediate gratification for you, but you’ll brighten someone’s day in small way.
Instead of: Being environmentally friendly
Try: Making an effort to recycle the container your breakfast comes in every morning, or your coffee cup after you’re done. Once you’ve got breakfast down, move on to lunch, then dinner. Bonus: Collect a few pieces of trash at a park one afternoon or on your way home from work.
Instead of: Saying you’re there for someone through a hard time
Try: Planning a coffee date and lending an ear to help them work out problems.
Instead of: Sending flowers to someone in the hospital
Try: Bringing dinner over to their home, or offering to drive their children to school. If the issue is more serious—like a health condition—start a Facebook group to spread awareness, offer ways people can help, or even solicit donations to a cause.
Instead of: Helping homeless pets
Try: Taking a shelter dog on a long walk one night and showing the animal off to people you see—you'll increase the pup’s chance at finding a forever home.
What do you think about random acts of kindness and small changes that can lead to bigger gains? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @Shape_Magazine.