THURSDAY, Jan. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Performing small acts of
kindness and gratitude can make people happier, researchers
believe, but how this occurs is more of a puzzle.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University
of California, Riverside, has studied happiness for more than 20
years. She and others know that positive activities boost positive
emotions, thoughts and behavior, in turn improving well-being.
Now, how people can deliberately change their thinking and
practices to bliss out to the max is her focus.
"I have evidence that the dosage of an activity is important," she said.
Reviewing past studies on happiness, including some of her own
research, Lyubomirsky concluded there is no single prescription for
happiness-boosting acts of kindness.
Variety, frequency and motivation all play a role, she said.
How often you perform the behaviors influences happiness,
Lyubomirsky found, but not always in the way you may think.
Studying the effect of counting your blessings on happiness, for
instance, she found doing so once a week was ideal for making
"Doing it three times a week gave no extra benefit," she said.
Her research, presented at the recent annual meeting of the
Society for Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans, found
that performing other positive acts once a week led to the most
happiness. That could be because many routines, such as worshipping
and even TV, occur weekly, she said.
Performing a variety of kind and grateful behaviors helps
maximize happiness, too, whereas repeatedly doing the same act of
kindness may lose its ability to boost happiness, she said.
"We did one study where we had people do acts of kindness over 10 weeks," she said. The acts could be similar or varied. For instance, someone who usually refused to take out the trash might offer to do so. That made them happier initially, she said, but it worked better in terms of happiness when they varied the activity.
Picking your own positive behavior, such as performing an act of
kindness, promises to make you more likely to vary the activity,
she also found.
Feeling you have social support for your actions also influences
how much positive behaviors, such as expressing gratitude, will
boost your happiness, she said. And gaining support through social
media works as well as face-to-face "hurrahs," she added.
Commenting on the study, James Maddux, university professor
emeritus of psychology at George Mason University, said he thinks
"the message is, for these kinds of activities, it's not a matter
"You start with these general strategies," he said of behaviors such as performing kind acts. "X seems to work for most of the people most of the time."
The next focus, he agreed, is to tease out which differences in
people affect the degree of happiness produced, as Lyubomirsky is
Once people figure that out on an individual level, the research
suggests they can expect their positive acts to repay them with
even more happiness, he said.
Experts note that data and conclusions presented at meetings are
typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed
For more about happiness, visit the
Social Psychology Network.
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