The New York Subway is a constant source of amazement to me.
It’s a microcosm of society with all walks of life, where you see some fascinating and some truly heartbreaking things.
Amongst it all, the thing that stands out the most to me is the incredible generosity shown by transiting New Yorkers.
New York has the highest percentage of homelessness in the America, with over 60,000 people currently homeless, with one-third of that made up of children.
Struggling to make ends meet, these people get on the subway to ask people for anything that they’re willing to give. People hand over money, give them food, water, or even the coffee out of their hand. Given how much New Yorkers love their coffee, that could be considered an enormous act of kindness.
Amazingly, people respond with the same compassion day after day.
Sure they’re good-hearted people. But people also like to give because it feels good.
People often mistakenly think that the more I get, consume, own - the happier I'll be. Sure, if you go from being homeless to living comfortably, your happiness will skyrocket. But once your basic needs are met the research shows that accumulating more has very little impact on your happiness.
In fact, studies show that when it comes to lasting happiness, it isn't what you've got, it's what you give. That's exactly what Prof Elizabeth Dunn and colleagues from the University of British Columbia found when students were given money to either spend on themselves or someone else. Those who spent it on others reported feeling happier in comparison to those who spent it on themselves.
No one has ever become poor by giving - Anne Frank
A ton of research has been done on the positive effects associated with altruism... and some of them are pretty surprising.
Doing something for someone else can not only improve your physical health, it can also reduce feelings of depression, improve your romantic relationships, help you fight addiction, enhance your financial standing, and even improve your life expectancy.
When we give to others, the pleasure center of our brain lights up like a Christmas tree and our brains release a surge of endorphins. Scientist call this warm and fuzzy feeling the “helpers high".
Interestingly, the region of our brain associated with social connection and trust is also activated when we’re kind to others. Professor Sonja Lyubomirksy suggests that this makes us like ourselves and other people more.
The benefits of altruism aren’t restricted to the person giving kindness or receiving kindness. James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis from Harvard University found that altruistic acts positively impact the giver and anyone witnessing the act of kindness.
As a result, an act of kindness can lead to a cascade of social consequences, impacting dozens of people at a time. Witnessing or even hearing about an act of kindness increases the likelihood of you engaging in a random act of kindness yourself.
So why not try doing something kind for someone else – and spread some happiness for them, for you and for anyone else watching on.
If you need some inspiration, here’s a sweet little video of acts of kindness.
May you keep happiness in sight xx
For more on the science behind kindness - check out these two videos. Sorry about the promotional nature of them (you're welcome Orly Wahba).
Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319(5870), 1687-1688.
Fowler, J. H., & Christakis, N. A. (2010). Cooperative behavior cascades in human social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(12), 5334–5338. http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0913149107