“Do a Good Turn Daily.”
– Official slogan of the Boy Scouts of America

“The most sensible way to look after our own self-interest, to find freedom and be happy, is not to directly pursue these things but to give priority to the interest of others. […] Contribute to their happiness. It’s all really very simple. You don’t have to choose being kind to yourself and others – it’s one and the same.”
– psychologist Piero Ferrucci

Do something kind for someone else, every day. It’s a habit I’m currently focusing on through calendar and to-do list reminders, which help the practice stay front and center in my mind. My goal is to do at least one good deed – large or small – every day.

Natural Rewards

Doing a daily good deed is actually not a selfless goal, but a selfish one. The body automatically gives the brain a surge of happiness-inducing chemicals every time we do something nice. It’s like a reward from nature for doing good! The neurotransmitter (aka chemical in the brain) responsible for this happiness boost is serotonin, and it’s the same chemical used by pharmaceutical companies in antidepressants.

Amazingly we are wired so that when performing an act of kindness, not only do we get a happiness bump, but we spread the wealth. “Here’s what’s cool: when you do something kind for someone, the person you’re helping has serotonin released in her brain – she feels happier. And, so do you,” says Brian Johnson, channeling the wisdom of Dr. Wayne Dyer. It gets even better. “Perhaps the most incredible thing is this: Not only do you and the person you helped feel better, so does some random person who happened to watch your act of kindness.”

Every time you do something nice, YOU get a burst of serotonin, the OTHER PERSON gets a burst of serotonin, and ANYONE WATCHING gets a burst of serotonin. That’s a lot to go around, and over time can add up to a significant increase in happiness.

Elevate Your Happiness

The effects of doing good were studied in a six week experiment at the Univeristy of California, in which participants were asked to perform five acts of kindness per week.1 “As expected, being generous and considerate made people happy – that is, the participants who committed acts of kindness over the course of the study experienced a significant elevation of their happiness,” explains Sonja Lyubomirsky, author and the psychologist who conducted the study. In her book The How of Happiness, Lyubomirsky draws on psychological theory and research to provide potential reasons why. She elaborates: “being kind and generous […]

  • Leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably.
  • Fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community.
  • Relieves guilt, distress, or discomfort over other’s difficulties and suffering.
  • Encourages a sense of awareness and appreciation for your own good fortune.
  • Can deliver a welcome distraction from your own troubles and rumination, as it shifts the focus from you to somebody else.
  • Can change your self-perception in a positive way. You may begin to view yourself as an altruistic and compassionate person. This new identity can promote a sense of confidence, optimism, and usefulness.”

Practice Kindness: The One Week Daily Deed Challenge

In the spirit of increasing both your own happiness (be selfish!) and starting a chain of positive events, I’d like to invite you to join the One Week Daily Deed Challenge. The details are simple: for one week, do at least one good deed, big or small, every day.

Join the challenge by leaving a comment on this post, or tweeting with the hashtag #DailyDeed. Choose items from the list below, or use it as inspiration and come up with your own. Mix it up and keep things fresh!

“The options for helping are unlimited. You only have to open your mind to the possibilities for kindness; if you look with fresh eyes, they are all around you. Furthermore, no particular talent, measure of time, or amount of money is required. The deed may not be grand or complicated. […] You don’t have to be a Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama; the acts can be small and brief.”
– Sonja Lyubomirsky

While a good deed is more than just good manners, used the right way even tiny actions can become special acts of kindness. The smallest gesture can have the ability to alter someone else’s day in a positive way so always remember to smile, say please and thank you, and express gratitude.

Suggested Good Deeds / Good Turns / Random Acts of Kindness:

  • Open the door for someone
  • Carry groceries or other items for a stranger
  • Pick up a piece of trash
  • Buy a stranger’s cup of coffee
  • Write someone a gratitude or thank you letter
  • Buy a stranger’s meal
  • Feed a stranger’s parking meter
  • Donate blood
  • Donate or serve a meal to someone less fortunate
  • Buy someone a book
  • Listen to a friend (or stranger) going through a challenging time
  • Pay for a stranger’s bus or train fare
  • Let someone go ahead of you in line
  • Send flowers to someone for no reason
  • Allow someone to take the last parking space
  • Give a heartfelt compliment
  • Save a life
  • Give a random person a small gift (I love giving gift cards to Starbucks!)
  • Leave a generous tip
  • Buy a homeless person a meal and listen to their story
  • Help a child cross a busy street
  • Offer a stranger a hug
  • Learn the name of your waiter or other service staff, and treat them with respect and gratitude. As Dale Carnegie reminds us, “a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
  • Go to the store for an elderly neighbor
  • Cut back brush that is blocking a sign
  • Do something special for a brother or sister
  • Support somebody’s creative project
  • Call a friend on their birthday
  • Welcome a new student to your school, or new colleague to your work
  • Help out after a natural disaster or other traumatic event
  • Learn how to say hello, please, and thank you in a foreign language and use your new words when given an opportunity
  • Offer your seat to the elderly or expecting mothers
  • Help someone move
  • Other spontaneous acts of kindness

Start spreading serotonin today and note how you feel after a week. If you are feeling inspired, keep going! Make it a game and see how many days in a row you can keep the streak alive.

Note: For Christian traditions tomorrow marks the beginning of lent, a 40 day period during often used to reduce negative behaviors and increase positive ones. If you have a Christian background and don’t yet have something you want to focus on, how about a good turn daily? My wife and I tried this a few years back and were amazed at the difference it made in how we felt.

“True happiness consists in making others happy.” – Hindu proverb

If you are interested in books related to this topic, I recommend:
A Philosophers Notes by Brian Johnson
The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

  1. http://sonjalyubomirsky.com/wp-content/themes/sonjalyubomirsky/papers/LDinpressb.pdf []