Acts of Kindness,
Acts of Happiness
I picture of a flower growing through two slats in a bridge.
Kindness tends to make our lives happierLife is a constant choice to be selfish or kind. How we navigate those choices has a direct impact on our mood and emotions.
I suspect everyone feels a sense of happiness and self-satisfaction when they do something nice for a fellow human being or animal. The great religions tell us we need to do it out of selfless giving to be truly holy. Is this true, though? I would suggest that an act of kindness done for any reason, selfish or selfless, is still an act of kindness. I also offer that the receiver of the gift of kindness is usually blessed, no matter the giver’s motivations.
Our Motivations for Kindness
Why, then, do so many spiritual practices command that we be selfless in our acts of kindness? Is it possible that they are right in their most in-depth reasoning, even if pious in their posturing about it? I suspect so. Thus, the better question might be, what can we as individuals learn from our motivations when the acts we do are kind to the receiver? In other words, we can free ourselves of some of the emotional sufferings we cause ourselves unnecessarily if we examine why we are doing any particular random act of kindness. Knowing ourselves and our motivations, we can live a life built upon Joy, Peace, and Contentment.
Our Motivations For Acts of Kindness Matter
Let me build an imaginary situation to show why our motivations matter in the acts of kindness we perform. Let’s say you have a rich, older-aged neighbor. You know that this neighbor has no family. In the beginning, you visited them because you felt bad as you imagined their loneliness. As you discovered their financial status, though, you started seeing them with the thought of being the recipient of all that money once your neighbor passes away.
From the neighbor’s perspective, the kindness you show the neighbor is kind, no matter your motivation. Even if the neighbor suspects your reasons, you are still blessing them with your kindness.
However, you may also be setting yourself up for suffering as you bless them? The reason has to do with your motivations. If you grasp onto the idea of that money coming your way, you glue your happiness to the future vision of receiving that money. Those emotional bonds become straps that tie your life, dreams, and happiness to a perceived result. You are living in an imagined future while ignoring the present moment of your kindness blessing your neighbor. Later, when your neighbor’s life ends, imagine you discover that they left most of their money to nonprofits. You will probably suffer because you didn’t get as much money as you had expected to receive; you may even feel cheated and upset.
There is a solution
There is a solution. This solution does go against what many of the religions teach, though. What if you just enjoyed the pleasant feeling of self-approval you experience while performing your random act of kindness for your rich neighbor? That’s selfish, you might say. Yes, I suppose it is. Yet, from your neighbor’s perspective, they are still blessed, whether it be selfishness on your part for perceived monetary gain or real emotional pleasantness now. Either way, aren’t your motivations selfish?
In this scenario, I suggest that you are truthful to your neighbor and yourself if you are honest about your motivations now. It’s a win/win scenario. In other words, selfishness isn’t all destructive if it’s fair and compassionate. In the system I just described, it’s both. This option, of course, leaves open the question of, “What about the negative emotions I feel wrapped around being selfish, honest or not?” May I suggest that you sit with those uncomfortable feelings and discover what bubbles out of them with time? I suspect you may find that the layers of kindness and selfishness blend into one another and that the only threshold is what our most profound beliefs and motivations are.
May you find and create Joy, Peace, and Contentment today.
First Posted December 19, 2014Updated February 8, 2021