When you and your children pitch in to make a get-well card for Uncle Gary, you know you're making a difference in the life of someone who needs a lift. But showing kindness to others is also an effective way to get happier yourselves. Researchers call the warm glow we feel after doing something nice a "helper's high." And these good feelings start early. In a Canadian experiment, toddlers who gave their snacks to others were rated as happier than those who ate the treats themselves. In another study, kids ages 9 to 11 who did three kind things each week for a month (such as picking up litter or helping a sibling with homework) enjoyed greater feelings of happiness and more popularity at school, notes Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, author of The How of Happiness and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside.
To get the biggest feel-good bang out of helping others, consider Lyubomirsky's intriguing finding: "My studies revealed that practicing three to five acts of kindness per week may be ideal. If you do them all in one day it's especially powerful." This may be because same-day deeds don't get so lost in daily routine. So go ahead: devote some family time to not-so-random acts of caring. Doesn't that sound like a lot more fun than doing chores anyway?
Boost the feel-good benefit from altruism by donating time as a family. These sites can connect you with organizations and ideas that let the whole gang pitch in:
It's true: some of us are just happier by nature. That's why one family may have a glum Eeyore and a bouncing Tigger sitting at the same dinner table. But while genetics account for about 40 percent of our feelings of well-being, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, the rest is a combination of our life circumstances and our behavior. That suggests it's often within a family's power to improve the overall household mood. "Happiness is best thought of not as an inborn trait," says Christine Carter, "but as a set of skills that can be taught."
We asked kids: What would you wish for to make your family happier?
From FamilyFun's Happiness Survey. Nearly 300 members of our Reader Panel responded to that survey, conducted last November. All were parents of children ages 5 to 12. After completing their portion of the survey, the parents then asked one of their kids to answer two other questions.