Sunday, 8 May 2011

Action for Happiness, Random Acts of Kindness, Mindfulness

Bit of a sermon, this - well, it is Sunday, and old habits die hard, even for an ageing hippy humanist.
Thanks to Comfort Blanket for setting me on this road - run your cursor over my title above to link to her blogpost on the subject.

When I first heard about Action for Happiness, I was intrigued,with one reservation (on to that in a mo.)Now I learn about Random Acts of Kindness, also with one reservation from me, which is rapidly evaporating.

At first I thought "what's the world coming to, that we need an organisation to promote kindness? It should be spontaneous." Then I remembered a very good idea from some years ago, called I think "Play It Forward." If you received a kindly, helpful act from a stranger, you waited till the right moment, and did something kindly for a stranger yourself. Lapel badges were made. It din't really take off. It was too unspontaneous and yet it was unplanned and situational, it involved waiting for something good to happen to oneself. RAK is much simpler and more direct, more planned and structured and yet more open to spontaneity.

It would be good to think kindness could be catching. I wish I was sure about that...but we should do these things as a matter of principle (it's better to behave better) and because, dammit, it feels good, as CB observes.

In Hong Kong, people will often give up their seat on the metro for an older person. Uhuh. Remember that? Pretty rare nowadays on the Tube, I think. We've just got out of the kindly habit. Maybe RAK on the Tube could spread...after all, Hong Kong is every bit as busy and high-pressure as London. RAK could generate habitual social responses, over time. (Of course, part of it in HK would relate back to modern relics of Confucian attitudes towards the elderly)

My reservation about Action for Happiness is perhaps a bit theoretical: I think the aim should be contentment. That's the base line for happiness, which seems to me truly to be a more spontaneous, inspirational thing. Want to make someone doubt their happiness? Just ask them how happy they are. If they waver, and start comparisons and measurements, they're done for, they're headed for discontent. Having said that, the content of AfH is very helpful.

Mindfulness teaches us to aim for balance and contentment. Happiness will then occur more often. And a mindful person is also likely to find it increasingly easy to feel compassion and understanding rather than the envy, anger etc.that so often comes from judging and comparing.

But maybe it's chicken and egg. Perhaps RAK can also open the door to a mindful approach to life, because self-interest is put on the back-burner for a while, and those evolutionary bits of us that say "me, me" are stilled for a while, whilst we do something kind just for the sake of it.

OK, we all have to criticise, judge, and plan sometimes. You don't want to miss the train, or fail the exam. For the other times, mindfulness will generate calm will generate contentment will generate balance; RAK may lead to serious outbursts of...happiness.

Picture of a happy person for you.


  1. Oh yes, absolutely!

    Courtesy can create delight too -- beautiful manners. I rather regret the departure of them.

  2. Yes me too, and I worry that manners (simply a degree of sensitivity and generosity towards others in a social situation - obvious point: manners not = etiquette)manners are coming to seem uncool and old-farty. As ye reap, so shall ye sow.These things are catching - one hopes. You are unfailingly courteous in your blog, Charles, unlike so much of the blogosphere and internet eg some horrid comments on various YouTube clips, and comments on newspaper and broadcaster's web-pages. Yuk!

  3. What a delightful little chap. I wish they did ball pools for adults...
    I agree that it shouldn't take a 'movement' like AFH or RAK to make us recognise what's important in life and to be nice to people. But, sadly, many people are oblivious to what really matters, and charge through life in headlong pursuit of bigger/richer/thinner/faster, knocking people over with their new wheels as they go... And others who just need reminding. Contentment is most certainly where it's at.
    And Charles - I couldn't agree more. The general lack of courtesy and beautiful manners is a sad loss. When I see someone exhibiting really bad manners it makes me want to tell them they have really bad manners. But that would be bad manners...

  4. Bad manners to tell someone they are ill-mannered....Ah, CB, the double bind of civilised people! But I like your image of rushing around with new wheels knocking people over (or rather, I don't like it, but it's effective.)