Through my experience with counselling young adults, I have found that many of them walk through the door of the counselling room with depression; and many times they are unable to determine what is making them so low and unhappy. Many have faced traumatic and dreadful experiences, whilst others find that life is just so meaningless that they try to seek happiness in addiction or other risk taking behaviours. Their emotional state of being, or the compensatory behaviour they have adopted to feel better, tends only to leave them feeling more unwanted, unimportant and worthless.
With this thought in mind, I was surfing the internet to find some tools to support young people with their challenges. I came across the theme of ‘random acts of kindness’, and it resonated with me immediately. I found reams of information, quotes and poems on the subject, but there was a particular article which really struck a chord. It reported on a famous study carried out at a school in the USA by Dr Lyubomirsky from the University of California (the Ripple Kindness Project).
The article began;
“Kindness is a natural anti-depressant because it causes a release of serotonin in our brain. Serotonin plays an important part in learning, memory, mood, sleep, health and digestion. It heightens our senses of wellbeing, increases energy and gives a wonderful feeling of positivity and self-worth.”
Within the study, pupils were asked to perform five random acts of kindness each week, for six weeks. The results reported upon 41.6% of the students feeling an increase in happiness, after they had performed these acts!
Reading the article, it became apparent to me that kindness has curative powers. In the words of Dr Lyubomirsky,
“…since depression, anxiety and stress involve a high degree of focus on the self, focussing on the needs of others literally helps shift our thinking”.
It would appear that the increase in self-esteem experienced by the students, arose from the acts of kindness they had performed. These acts had made them feel joy, which in turn enhanced their feelings of physical and emotional wellbeing. The study went onto suggest that kindness led to greater concentration, possibly because happy students were able to engage more fully in their learning, having overcome the tendency to be preoccupied by their own worries and problems. Furthermore, Dr Lyubomirsky reported on fewer disruptions in the classroom. I guess, because the students were engaged in their work and happier, they were more tolerant of each other and less irritable. The research found that happier students had more time for each other and were less stressed, consequently producing better standards of work.
The whole study made me wonder what was missing in the lives of the young adults that I see, as part of my daily practice. Perhaps they are concentrating too hard on their own problems? How might they benefit from seeing the difference and power they have to impact someone else’s life in a positive way?
Acts of kindness need not take lots of time or effort. Just a simple smile, a passing compliment or words of encouragement can lift someone’s day. On a larger scale, taking part in community voluntary work can impact groups of people, and make a difference to the lives of those in need. By focusing outside of ourselves, we not only improve the quality of life of people around us, but also enhance our own sense of happiness and self-belief.
Psychotherapeutic Counsellor & Grief Therapist
Satya has a wide range of experience in counselling adolescents to adults of all ages and walks of life. She specialises in bereavement but her work has led her into counselling individuals suffering from stress, anxiety, abuse, rape, identity, family breakdown and illness. Satya has worked in-depth with clients on the Autistic Spectrum, particularly individuals with Aspergers Syndrome who are trying to manage life transitions. She is an EFT Practitioner for pain relief, anxiety and stress. Satya is an accredited member of the National Counselling Society (NCS) and a registered member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). She is running counselling sessions at Solihull Well Being Clinic, and also offers Bereavement Groups from this location.