Acts of kindness are important because they can increase the happiness and well-being of those who receive them, as well as increase the happiness and well-being of those who give them. In a world that is often tough, both emotionally and economically, an act of kindness from others can go a long way toward increasing our own feelings of being cared for, says Georges Chahwan. Further, even when we know other people are attempting to be kind, it still holds some surprise or novelty; this combined with social norms may encourage us to pay it forward by also engaging in acts of kindness towards others.

By engaging in acts of kindness ourselves, we may begin to view our lives more positively and therefore our own happiness may increase. We may also come to view other people more positively, leading to an increase in trust for those around us.

Acts of kindness should be given freely with no expectation of repayment or reciprocation, adds Georges Chahwan. The effects of altruistic behavior and helping others may be even more powerful than we realize. Researchers have found that prosocial behaviors such as acts of generosity and compassion may actually increase activity in reward-related areas of the brain: It turns out that when we help others, a part of our brain called the ventral striatum gets activated. This area is associated with positive emotions from things like eating chocolate or receiving a compliment from a loved one—activating this area simply by thinking about doing something prosocial is enough to make people feel good (Harbaugh, Mayr, & Burghart 2008).