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Be nice to all


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. Pic: Agencies

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. Really? Intrigued by the idea that you can improve how you feel without a) buying a new gadget b) trying (and failing) to attain a six-pack at the gym, I decide to go 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".

 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, Brighton (UK) "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 chicken products. People seem to be responding positively to my drink, 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? 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, (UK), which focused on how doing good things for other people is vital for mental health and wellbeing. "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."

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.


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