Random acts of kindness: the many virtues of leading a compassionate life
We all want to be happy. Our modern world reflects this aspiration in advertising, fashion, celebrity culture and the media. But it seems clear that none of these is the true route to happiness. So where can it be found?
Showing love and compassion for those we know, for those we meet and for every being in the world is a good place to start. A 2010 Harvard Business School survey of happiness in 136 countries found that people who are altruistic—in this case, people who were generous financially, such as with charitable donations—were happiest overall.
The benefits to us and those around us of living a truly compassionate and loving life has been long recognised. The ancient Buddist poem, the Metta Sutta, is all about this, in particular ‘loving-kindness’. Loving-kindness is defined as the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others. The poem is repeated as a study aid, to help generate the essence of loving-kindness within oneself and for all beings.
The Pali (a language native to the Indian subcontinent) word metta is multi-dimensional, encompassing loving-kindness, amity, goodwill, benevolence, fellowship, concord, inoffensiveness and nonviolence. Essentially metta is an altruistic attitude of deep love and friendliness, as distinguished from mere amiability based on self-interest. Or, as the contemporary Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche describes it succinctly:
‘Look after yourself so that you can look after others and look after others so that they can look after you.’
Modern research consistently shows the many positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brain of everyone – not just the person who was kind and the individual recipient, but also those who witnessed the act, improving their mood and making them significantly more likely to ‘pay it forward.’ This means one good deed can create a domino effect and improve the happiness of dozens of people. So an act of kindness – be it random or otherwise – can be contagious.
There’s no doubt that more than ever the world needs more people who are willing to step out and have the courage to be kind. Whether it’s simply promising to give three compliments to the first three people you speak to in the day or cooking a meal for your elderly neighbour, the benefits to everyone around you – including yourself - are immeasurable. So try a random act of kindness. Small acts can indeed create a big impact and help make a kinder, happier world for everyone.