Dr. Jeffrey J. Froh did a deep dive some years ago as a doctoral candidate at St. John’s University. He explored the depth, breadth, potential, and complex history of positive psychology. When did it take hold, this belief that kindness can contribute to one’s emotional and mental health?
“Martin E. P. Seligman, in his 1998 APA Presidential Address, is said to have introduced positive psychology to the American Psychological Association. However, overwhelming evidence suggests that the principal components of positive psychology date back at least to William James. More recently, Abraham Maslow spoke of psychology, which attention should be given to what is and could be. Maslow even used the words ‘positive psychology’ for a chapter title in the 1950s,” Dr. Froh wrote. “Contemporary positive psychologists seem to have distanced themselves from Maslow’s humanistic approach largely because they believe its experiential methodology lacks scientific rigor. It is argued here that positive psychology will only self-actualize when it embraces its history.”
Seligman made his mark with his statement – instead of focusing on the negative like so many predecessors in his role with the APA, he opted to look on the bright side.
Regardless of who gets credit for coining the term of positive psychology, it does appear here to stay. Positive psychology courses started popping up at universities beginning in the early 2000s, and research was done to establish how small, random acts of kindness can have ripple effects throughout society. Notably, the giver of the act of kindness gets just as much satisfaction, if not more, than the person who receives it. Why is this?
“Suppose you could be hooked up to a hypothetical ‘experience machine’ that, for the rest of your life, would stimulate your brain and give you any positive feelings you desire. Most people to whom I offer this imaginary choice refuse the machine. It is not just positive feelings we want: we want to be entitled to our positive feelings,” Dr. Martin Seligman said.
It seems innate in most human psyches that they want to feel good by doing good – no shortcuts allowed.
Rafael Sarandeses, whose career is focused on executive coaching and career strategy, wrote in his article that in some cases, acts of kindness and their resulting happiness can be attributed to Stephen Covey’s scarcity or abundance theory from the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
The ability to view the world as abundant with opportunities means that those people are more likely and willing to give and perform acts of kindness for others. The scarcity mindset, in juxtaposition, instead makes people defensive and unwilling to assist others in life.
So if most people feel good about themselves from doing good works, how does that impact things like philanthropy? Also, how does this psychology impact consumer purchases of products created in third-world countries for the empowerment of their people?
The answer is that the bulk of donations in the U.S. – 80% – come from individuals, with a staggering $309.66 billion raised in the U.S. alone in 2019, according to Charitable Giving Statistics. Meanwhile, the Silent Generation is quietly – and generously – giving the majority of those donations. The annual GivingTuesday push for donations from nonprofits organizations reached $511 million online and $1.46 billion offline in 2019 donations.
Now, those warm feelings generated by giving and acts of kindness are being experienced by consumers when they make purchases. Dawn, for example, has incorporated helping animals impacted by disasters and committed to ending animal testing. The branding of the company is now intertwined with notable moves to help wildlife.
Other organizations like ME to WE and the World Fair Trade Organization help people in third world countries by facilitating sales of their fairtrade, artisan products to consumers in other countries. This creative enterprise allows for a stabilizing influence within entire communities – job creation and job stability were things that had otherwise been largely unattainable for many.