Random Acts of Kindness Day and Week are here! A new metastudy provides guidance on how kindness can help us improve happiness — and why randomness matters.
A new metastudy of 126 studies of almost 200,000 participants shows kindness is connected to well-being — but not as strongly as the authors expected. As reported by Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley, the metastudy also found that people who were kind tended to be higher in one measure of happiness, life satisfaction, as opposed to sense of pleasure; as the article explains:
“Although the overall relationship between prosocial (kind and helpful) behavior and well-being is weak, given that so many people around the world act prosocially, the modest effect can still have a significant impact at a societal level,” (Lead researcher Bryant Hui) says.
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The researchers also found that people who were kind tended to be higher in “eudaimonic happiness” (a sense of meaning and purpose in life) more than “hedonic happiness” (a sense of pleasure and comfort). Perhaps this makes sense, given that being kind involves effort, which takes away from comfort but could make people feel better about themselves and their abilities, which would provide a sense of meaning.
The metastudy found that the type of kindness we practice matters, with informal acts of kindness associated with greater happiness than more formal acts. The GGSC article uses the example of bringing a meal to a grieving friend as an informal activity, or random act of kindness, and the example of volunteering in a soup kitchen as a more. With random acts of kindness returning a higher happiness value on investment, researchers suggest our psychological needs for autonomy and close relationships as possible reasons.
Kindness was also found to have related benefits. Also as explained in the article from GGSC:
What other, specific benefits might kindness have? The researchers found that people who were kind tended to have higher self-esteem and a sense of self-efficacy. To a lesser degree, they also experienced less depression and anxiety and improved physical health—with the links to health being strongest in older adults.
Hui doesn’t know for sure why acting kind might have these different effects on different groups, but he points to theories put forth by researcher Elizabeth Midlarsky: Being kind may make us feel better about ourselves as a person or about the meaning of our lives, confirm our self-competence, distract us from our own troubles and stressors, give us a warm-glow feeling, or help us be more socially connected with others. All of these could potentially improve our well-being—reducing our stress, improving our mood, or providing community—and they could hold more importance at different stages of life, too.
The following tips can help you develop a habit of random kindness, offered in a previous post from clinical psychologist and LCL MA staff clinician Dr. Shawn Healy:
- Pay attention to those around you in your daily life
- Be on the look out to help those who can do nothing for you in return
- Commit to intentionally expressing kindness toward one new person every single day
- Pay attention to how you feel the more you express unconditional kindness
- Encourage others to do the same
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