Be nice and you'll be happy

Acts of kindness to our fellow human beings don’t only benefit others – they boost our own well-being, too, experts believe. Flemmich Webb goes in search of the do-good factor

I'm going to be extra nice today. Don't get me wrong: I'm not normally an uncaring person, just occasionally self-absorbed or simply too busy to think about others. Anyway, someone in less of a rush can always help out.


But this morning, I'm hoping things might be different. In my hand, I have a flyer promoting the UK's first-ever Close the GAP (Give Appreciate Participate) day. The idea is simple: today on 13 November (also World Kindness Day) spend a day being nice to people. The card claims "doing good does you good" by boosting your immune system,  reducing stress hormones and increasing "well-being" hormones, such as endorphins.

Really? Intrigued by the idea that you can improve how you feel without a) buying a new gadget b) draining four pints of lager c) trying (and failing) to attain a six-pack at the gym, I decide to go to Brighton to put it to the test.

There are some handy tips for nice things to do such as: "Pay someone a compliment"; "Send a thoughtful text"; "Buy someone lunch"; and "Smile at people on public transport" but I'm a little sceptical. If someone smiles at me on the train, my first thought is "Serial killer" not "How lovely; that giant bloke with tattoos and a bolt through his nose wants to share the love". But since I am feeling stressed and grumpy today, I'll see if doing good deeds cheers me up.

I spot a street cleaner waiting to cross the road, and offer to push her cart across the road. She looks baffled, but agrees after I explain why I'm asking. When we reach the other side of the road, I ask how she feels.

"I thought it was sweet of you – I usually just get drunk blokes asking if they can use my broom," Kate says. "I feel rather good; I think I'll go and do something nice now. Buoyed by this early success and a buzz of bonhomie from interacting with a total stranger, I offer a hug to a woman standing on the seafront. She accepts.

"The last time I did this, I ended up marrying him," Kay from Lincolnshire jokes, as we break apart from the embrace, both flushed with the unexpected thrill of a random encounter. "In fact, my husband is standing just over there."

I hurry off – I can see how one might get into trouble being this friendly. But now I'm on a roll. I intercept a young woman at a food counter and before she can say no, I buy her a hotdog.

"Initially, I thought it was a bit weird of you to offer," says Maria, a Brighton resident, "but now I think it was rather nice; it's made me feel a little happier."

And you know what, I feel happier, too — and it's only cost me £3.50 in pork products. People seem to be responding positively to my largesse, which is making me feel better about myself and has lightened my mood. But is this just my impression or is there a scientific basis explanation for what is happening?

"Close the GAP day is about our ability to determine our own health through our actions," says Dr Barbara Mariposa, who came up with the concept partly in response to her own experience of suffering from depression.

"Just like when you go running, endorphins like serotonin are released when you are generous and kind and put your attention on the needs of the other person. It's like jogging for the soul, really."

According to Mariposa, other benefits include an improved immune system and physical changes in the structure and functioning of the brain that mean we are less likely to interpret the world in a negative or stressful way.

And, as we've all probably experienced at some point, if you have a positive outlook, you tend to trigger a positive response in others. "Being nice to people opens up more positive interactions for the individual," says Dr Dan Robotham, senior researcher at the Mental Health Foundation, which focused on how doing good things for other people is vital for mental health and wellbeing, during its Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this year.

"It helps us to become more integrated socially with others, and helps us adjust to our environment and become more of an active participant in it. If we act negatively all the time we tend to create a wall that isolates us from those around us."

It's not just about feeling better for the sake of it. Improving the nation's mental ill health is a Coalition aim, not least because it is the single largest cause of disability in the UK, contributing up to 22.8 per cent of the total burden, compared to 16.2 per cent for cardiovascular disease and 15.9 per cent for cancer.

Estimated annual costs for depression in England are £20.2–23.8bn a year and for anxiety £8.9, when you factor in the cost of  lost employment.

Back on the streets of Brighton, I end the day waving at cyclists as they go up and down the seafront. Some smile, some don't, some look concerned, some cycle faster, but by now I feel so good, it wouldn't matter if they told me to take a running jump into the sea.

Dishing out goodwill, it seems, is beneficial to me and the recipients, can be free and is surprisingly fun — so much fun in fact, that I might try being extra nice tomorrow as well. You never know, I might even hug that guy with the tattoos.

The Close the GAP launch party is at the Bernie Grant Centre, London, at 8pm tonight. See for details and to find out how you can get involved. See kindness for details on World Kindness Day

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

    AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

    £600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

    E-Commerce Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice