Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change. Bob Kerrey (1943)
The kindness of strangers has the power to improve our wellbeing and increase our feelings of happiness more than our normal friendship circle. How do I figure this? Imagine you have been hurt or let down by someone you trusted and thought you knew. You’re just looking to vent and for someone to listen to your story.
First you talk to a friend, they listen, and offer you their opinion and give advice in an attempt to try to lift you back up. You can sense their empathy and genuine care in their response which makes you feel somewhat better and your day continues as normal.
Now imagine the same scenario, but this time you’re talking to a complete stranger. You tell them your story and they listen. They then respond in a way that shows they identify or can relate to your situation, they offer you their opinion based on what they have heard and understood, and advise you accordingly. All of a sudden you feel less alone and your faith in humanity is restored and it’s like the sun has started shining through a grey sky – your day almost feels better, more fulfilled, than when you spoke to your friend. The happiness you feel as a result of the correspondence with the stranger barely compares to how you felt after communicating with your friend about the same issue.
This week Happinesss Weekly looks at why strangers can have a greater impact on your happiness than your friends.
Why strangers do it better
There are several reasons why strangers have the power to make us feel happier than our usual circle of friends – this could be why internet dating is becoming more popular and a more acceptable way of meeting someone and finding love. Here are some of the reasons why strangers can appeal to us more than our friends:
- Our expectations
The fact is we expect our friends to care about our wellbeing and therefore subconsciously depend on them to listen to us, side with us and support us unconditionally through all turbulence. It’s a part of friendship that almost all of us take for granted.
In the case of a complete stranger, we have no expectations. When a stranger is entirely removed from a situation and shows us kindness, we appreciate the time they take to actively listen to our story more than when our friends show us the same courtesy. Then if the stranger passes judgement that validates our feelings or actions, we start to feel better understood and less alone.
Although a stranger may have responded the same way as our friends, they exceed our expectations because we didn’t have any to begin with.
- The “stranger danger” belief
Strangers may also have an advantage over our friends because as children we were made acutely aware of “stranger danger”. These messages shaped our beliefs that strangers are a threat and potential danger.
Even now, despite statistics showing that someone we know who is a greater threat to us than a stranger, the media often highlight stories that demonstrate the opposite. When a stranger offers us kindness, our receptors instantly flick on warning us to be wary and we begin to question their motives and what could be in it for us.
It is when the kindness of a stranger is proven to be genuine and consequence-free, despite what we were programmed to understand, we often find ourselves pleasantly surprised.
As adults, neglecting or rejecting the kindness of strangers can force us to be confined and limited, so if we challenge this “stranger danger” belief, it enables us to work together to make a positive difference in each other’s lives.
- The selfish world we live in
Society often finds people first looking for the “what’s in it for me” before taking action in any situation. We all do it, whether it’s because we’re all time-poor in this fast-paced world or we’re simply becoming more selfish by the generation.
You may even notice that marketing campaigns are starting to lean towards commercial bribery as they become more aware that if they can’t convince the consumers that there’s something in it for them, it’s nearly impossible to motivate anyone to take action, let alone convince people to try a new product.
We are starting to value time more than ever before which is why when a stranger takes a moment to act selflessly towards us it leaves us feeling good because they have given up time to be thoughtful.
- About the kindness movement
This theory that strangers can have a greater impact on us than our friends isn’t new. Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel Pay It Forward published in 2000, which was adapted into the film starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment in the same year, may have inspired the movement that encourages random acts of kindness towards strangers.
Whenever it began, adults are now being actively encouraged to be more mindful of each other and to demonstrate random acts of kindness where they can. The stigma associated with strangers being dangerous is deteriorating as more people embrace the “Pay it Forward” movement.
How you can make a positive difference to a stranger
The purpose of the following activities is to do something nice for someone without expecting anything in return – It doesn’t have to be expensive and there’s no need to go above and beyond when you choose to demonstrate a random act of kindness for a stranger.
– Buy someone’s coffee in the coffee shop
– Help a student with their tuition
– Teach someone something new
– Volunteer for a charity
– Let someone in front of you in the grocery store line
– Hand-write a letter to someone telling them how important they are to you
– Speak up for someone – sign a petition, write a letter, be a referee for a job
– Work pro bono where your skills are needed
– Compliment a stranger
– Give up your seat when taking crowded public transport
– Listen to someone without interruption
– Greet someone in the elevator
– Hold the door open for someone
– Explain the Pay it Forward concept to someone
– Take part in Pay it Forward Day on 22 April. Find more information here.
For more ideas on how you can show kindness to others, follow the free Thrive Happiness Challenge application.
Happiness depends upon ourselves. Aristotle
Knowing how to make yourself happy is one of the most empowering things we can do. Life is constantly changing and everything is unpredictable, which means the only person we can fully depend on is ourselves. If we’re going to spend a lot of time by ourselves, it’s a good idea to know how to make ourselves happy!
I caught up with a colleague the other day and we spoke about the little things people had been doing lately that made us feel special. We could literally narrow it down to: receiving an email first thing in the morning, tapping on the glass to say hello as someone walked by, a guy calling me “mate” when he said hello and getting a thumbs-up signal.
We stopped and looked at each other in horrified realisation:
“How in the hell did such small things come to make us feel so special?”
There are various reasons for this and I’ll touch on it more in my blog next week about acceptance but this week, the goal is to get ourselves to the point where we truly know ourselves, trust ourselves and are full of so much self-respect that no one can shake us from our path. Get set to get completely independent – and in the process learn two things: what makes us feel special and what makes us happy. This week Happiness Weekly looks at how you can make yourself happy.
So let’s get this mission started!
Everyone is going to be different in finding their path to a happier and more fulfilling life because everyone’s journey is different. We all have different values and beliefs. Thought Catalog has some great ideas about little things you can do to make yourself happier instantly – but here are some ideas for how to make yourself happier longer-term and live your best life in a more fulfilling way:
1. Date yourself
Yes – that is exactly as it sounds. Take yourself to the movies. Go to that new coffee shop you want to check out. Walk along the beach alone. Go to a concert. Visit the zoo. Head to a festival. Literally learn how to be on your own and comfortable with yourself in public situations. Once you’ve learned how to date yourself, set up a date with yourself one weekend each month to catch up with yourself regularly and help stay on top of everything. This will ensure you remember what you like and don’t like and that you are leading a fulfilling life.
2. Appreciate nature
Be conscious of the natural things surrounding you that make you happy. Things that have nothing to do with any other being. Some hints: watching the waves at the beach, the sunrise each morning, the sunset each evening, the rolling hills in the distance, admiring the flowers in a garden on the way to work, the smell after rain falls, the way the shadows fall as the sun passes by each day etc.
3. Choose friends wisely
Select your friends wisely. Surround yourself with positive, successful people and leave the losers for someone else. It sounds harsh, but that’s how it needs to be. Only spend your time with people who are on your level or who can lift you up – if they can’t, really question why you want that person in your life and if you need them there. Make sure your expectations of yourself are realistic – you don’t want to think you’re so good, no one is good enough and at the same time you don’t want to think so little of yourself that the losers get to stay. Your friends should share your belief system.
4. Trust yourself
Learning to trust yourself is essential in finding your happiness long-term. If you can’t trust yourself, you’re never going to stay on the path you want to be on and others will more easily be able to knock you off balance. Once you trust yourself you can start trusting each and every decision you make to lead you to where you want to go. Part of learning to trust yourself could stem from being fair to yourself and to demonstrate what I mean here, I want to refer you to Paul Hudson from Elite Daily’s article: 20 Things you need to stop doing to yourself.
5. Ditch anything toxic
Anything that makes you doubt or question yourself, anything that makes you feel less than what you are, anything that hurts you is toxic – let it go. Be as cold as you need to be when breaking away from everything toxic in your life. Nothing toxic will ever serve you – unless it hurts you enough to teach you a massive lesson.
6. Believe you’re good enough
Self-belief is essential in making yourself happy long term. If you don’t believe in yourself, how is anyone else meant to? Concentrate on tapping into what you think of yourself and if it’s not a positive image, challenge it – why aren’t you as good if not better than anyone else? You may need to work with a psychologist if you find you’re having difficulty with your self-perception.
7. Learn your values
Stop looking externally for approval, look to yourself – ask yourself what you think, ask yourself for advice, find out what your values are. Write down what your values are and the things that you value above everything else. Then say why you value it. If you’re not on the list, ask yourself why not – add yourself to the list and consider why it’s important you should be there.
8. Make plans for the future
Stop waiting for other people to make plans, make your own plans for the future and get started – but make sure you select things you can do all on your own. If you want to go overseas, book that holiday. If you want to start a course, there’s no better time. If you want to learn a musical instrument or take up a sport – go for it! Challenge yourself and start today – nothing is too big or too small when it comes to planning your future.
9. Try to accomplish something you think is impossible
We may feel like a tiny spec in the grand scheme of things but you never know when your idea or your action can make a difference not just to one or two lives but a greater impact on many lives. Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams. Attempt to achieve the impossible – you might surprise yourself and if you don’t make it, you may start a whole new revolution or learn a whole lot of new and exciting things along the way!
If you still feel alone in this quest for making yourself happy, I recommend two books that helped me in changing and shaping my journey: God on a Harley by Joan Brady and Marry Yourself First by Ken Donaldson and The End – a blog post written by Coco J Ginger.