In this article, Stanford University reports on a stream of scholarly work that shows how acts of kindness toward others enhances personal happiness. Stanford Professor Jennifer Aaker calls it the "helper's high." Her recent research, with Melanie Rudd and Michael Norton, examines how to optimize that "helper's high." Their work shows that setting concrete philanthropic goals works much more effectively than establishing abstract objectives. Aaker explains, "This insight is important because nearly all of us are trying to make other people in our lives happy. Parents often say they just want their kids to be happy. Equally common is a desire to make our partners, family members, and friends happy, but few of us know exactly how to bring happiness to the people in our lives. Our new research sheds light on what we can do.”
The researchers examined this issue of concrete vs. abstract goals with a simple experiment. They gave experimental subjects $5 Amazon gift cards in exchange for the performance of an act of kindness. One-half of the subjects were asked to make someone else happy; the others were asked to try to make someone smile. The former represents an abstract goal; the latter serves as a more concrete objective. Those asked to make someone else smile indicated they experienced more personal happiness than those instructed to make someone happy. It did not matter what method any of the subjects used to try to make others happy or to make others smile.
Speaking of how performing acts of kindness can make you happier, check out this story about "paying it forward" at Starbucks: