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What is it about giving to others that enhances your happiness? This question has a complicated answer, but the largest benefit of helping others is that it increases your sense of purpose in life. When you feel that your actions are directly responsible for improving someone else’s life, you feel you are having a positive influence on the world. Acts of kindness provide you with a sense of control over your life and the world, too. Paying it forward is a way to enact the change that you would like to see in the world. In addition, being kind to others boosts your social capital. When others see you being generous, they learn to appreciate you and are more likely to be helpful to you in return. And those who feel they make the most significant impact or whose recipients show the most substantial appreciation for their efforts also report the most satisfaction and happiness. What doesn’t seem to make a difference in the level of satisfaction for givers is the level of the generosity. For example, one research study found that it did not matter how much people gave to those in need, only that they had given at all. And those who give of their time or effort feel just as happy with their choices as those who donate or spend money. In all situations, the givers increase their level of happiness just by giving. What happens when someone is so appreciative of your good deeds that they want to repay your generosity? In this case, you could accept their offer, or you could simply encourage the receiver to pay it forward. Honoring your kindness by bestowing a kind act on someone else is the foundation of paying it forward, and this represents an opportunity to show someone else how powerful good deeds can really be. Researchers have found that, when good deeds are performed in a community, they are likely to spawn even more acts of kindness (The social contagion of generosity, Tsvetkova and Macy). A simple example of this from 2012: At a Tim Horton’s coffee shop in Manitoba, one customer paid for the order of the person behind her in line. This led to a chain reaction of similar acts of generosity in the drive-through whereby 226 customers paid for the orders of strangers in line behind them across three hours. These types of generosity “chains” frequently happen today at all kinds of restaurants and toll booths across North America. This example highlights how generosity can be socially contagious. This is supported by many research studies that observe that being a recipient of or witnessing a kind deed makes you much more likely to do something kind for someone else. This is true whether or not your actions will be rewarded or directly reciprocated. This is paying it forward in action. Single deeds of generosity can create ripples within a community or social circle. Giving selflessly of yourself has been linked to a number of mental and physical health benefits. For example, those who regularly engage in random acts of kindness or who volunteer regularly are more likely to live longer than those who don’t. This outcome could be linked to the increased sense of purpose that giving provides or to the reduction in stress that is usually accompanied by raised levels of happiness. Those who give of themselves regularly often report better relationships and enhanced abilities to solve problems and overcome obstacles. Like all goals in life, it is essential to set goals for yourself, make a plan, and hold yourself accountable for your intentions to pay it forward.V

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ViewOn Magazine January / February 2021  

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