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How Small Acts of Joy Can Improve Your Well-Being in Big Ways

The old adage that it’s better to give than to receive can add more research results to its vita.

Many of us know from experience that we benefit when we give to others, not just with financial donations or by volunteering our time but with smaller, more random acts of kindness. If we do something nice for someone – pay them a compliment, pick up the tab for their lunch, call them for no other reason than to tell them we miss them – it not only can make their day but also make us feel better about life.

It’s great, though, when we come across research that backs up those experiences, because it encourages us to keep giving, even if in seemingly small ways. And I, for one, need that type of encouragement. There are times when “doing good” can seem pointless. The world is broken, as you might have noticed, and our actions seldom change much in the grand scheme of things. It’s all too easy to say, why bother? and then go on with a self-focused life.

There’s a case, of course, for doing good regardless of whether we reap any benefits. The key part of the phrase “unconditional love” is that two-letter prefix – “un.” It’s a hard thing to truly love unconditionally, but there is no greater form of love and nothing more noble than sacrificing our self-interest to serve the interests of others. So if our only motivation for doing good is that it’s the right thing to do because we love others, then that should be enough.

Still, there’s motivation in knowing that such sacrifices bring rewards back to us. And they do, at least according to the team at Greater Good Science Center (GGSC), which is part of the University of California Berkeley.

The GGSC’s Big JOY Project uses an interactive web-based program to log the activities and experiences of participants and measure the impact on their well-being. More than 77,000 participants from 200-plus countries have recorded nearly 300,000 acts of joy. And a recently released analysis of the data shows that people experience about a 25% increase in emotional well-being over the course of a week when they commit daily “micro-acts” of joy.

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As part of the project, participants are asked to engage in one of seven micro-acts: Do something kind, tune into what matters, make a gratitude list, dwell in awe, celebrate another’s joy, shift your perspective, be a force of good.

If you want to know more about those micro-acts, how to go about doing them, or the analysis of the project’s data, there’s a good article on the Greater Good Magazine website by Darwin Guevarra, one of the project’s researchers.

All of us can put the theory to the test by simply putting those micro-acts into practice and judging the results for ourselves. But as Guevarra noted in his article, “Big JOY is freely available for anyone to try.” So why not click the link, join the project, and add to the data? It’s a micro-action that will help others and, in the process, help you, too.

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