Making others happy increases one's happiness

Dr Radiah Salim ("Create a happier, kinder environment"; last Wednesday) eloquently expressed the values we espouse, and I am compelled to affirm her ideas with some research material I have been working with.

Indeed, doing good for the betterment of society is an important aspect of success. Paradoxically, in being "other-centred", we benefit ourselves in the process. There is published research to support that.

In a 2003 study, University of Michigan psychologist Stephanie Brown found that caregivers who gave regular help to others and performed kind acts had a lower risk of mortality than those who did not.

The Roseto effect describes a direct correlation between a close-knit relationship in an American small-town community and a drastic decrease in the risk of heart diseases.

This is, in effect, an American version of the kampung spirit at work in contributing to the health and well-being of the community.

Another study, by Dr David Hamilton, shows that kindness leads to a significant positive increase in people's moods and in relationship satisfaction, as well as a significant decrease in social avoidance.

What's more remarkable is the "positive feedback loop" phenomenon. The verdict is out that doing something good for someone other than yourself can boost your happiness.

There's a growing body of psychological studies showing that when individuals intentionally engage in an act of kindness, their subjective happiness increases over a seven-day period.

The more you make others happy, the more your own happiness increases. Even thinking about kindness has the same effect.

These studies confirm that good social relationships, including positive neighbourliness, are foundational to good mental health.

Paying more attention to building closer relationships with people around us is an affordable way to generate better mental health and psychological well-being.

William Wan (Dr)

General Secretary

Singapore Kindness Movement

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'Making others happy increases one's happiness'. Print Edition | Subscribe