Recent research in journal of positive psychology We investigate whether acts of kindness can be used as effective interventions to improve an individual’s well-being. The results strongly suggest that repeated acts of kindness, both large and small, increase a sense of social connectedness, increase life satisfaction, and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Impressively, the study also found that such benefits from acts of kindness outweighed benefits from regular social gatherings and completion of regular thought records, a popular CBT treatment. It further suggests that is also important.
Authors, clinical psychologists and researchers David Cregg and Jennifer Chaevens, describe their findings as follows:
“When individuals experience negative emotional states such as anxiety and depression, they make repeated unsuccessful attempts to alleviate negative emotions, resulting in a ‘self-regulatory cycle’ of chronic preoccupation with their own suffering.” increase. Associated with emotional distress and impaired social functioning, reducing self-centered attention may improve subsequent social connection and well-being. At least for now, we need to step away from ourselves and focus on other people’s needs. Therefore, completing acts of kindness may reduce self-centered attention and improve social connections and other aspects of well-being. ”
Cregg and Cheavens aimed to shed light on whether acts of kindness can be powerful therapeutics for an individual’s mental health, and to explore the mechanisms behind their effects. To that end, they recruited her 122 participants (Midwest big city adults with mild or severe anxiety, depression, or stress symptoms) into his three groups (a kindness group, a social activity group, and a social activity group). (cognitive reassessment group). We asked them to perform various group-specific tasks for five weeks. Researchers then measured participants’ self-reported perceptions and emotions before, during, and after the weekly task.
Based on previous literature, the researchers hypothesized the following:
- Over time, anxiety, depressive symptoms, and overall negative emotions are reduced for all group participants.
- participant in the act of kindness The group shows more improvement in social connections, positive emotions, life satisfaction, and overall positive well-being.
- participant act of kindness Groups show less self-absorption over time than participants in other groups.
Participants in the acts of kindness group were asked to perform acts of kindness three times a day for two days of the week. A social activity group participant was asked to plan social activities for her two days a week.Finally, re-evaluation group participants were asked to complete thought record at least two days a week.
In addition, all group participants were asked to complete 7 surveys before the survey, each week, and 5 weeks after the task. Such surveys assessed participants’ emotional states of depression, anxiety, and stress, life satisfaction, self-absorption (how focused participants are on themselves), perceived social support, social Connectivity, and positive/negative emotions were assessed.
The results supported all three hypotheses. First and foremost, all participants in all groups (including those with severe symptoms) showed increased life satisfaction and decreased negative emotions. was maintained 5 weeks after task completion. This suggests that all interventions in the study, such as being kind to others, asking for social gatherings, or doing a thought journal, were effective therapeutic methods.
But those in the group who did acts of kindness seemed to show the most improvement. The authors state that “kind acts showed benefits over cognitive reappraisal and social activity for social connection.” [and] They showed greater improvement than the cognitive reassessment group for life satisfaction and composite symptom scores. ”
Researchers suggest that acts of kindness intervention may improve an individual’s depressive symptoms and overall mental health.
“Kind acts may be a promising candidate for improving social well-being. […] Prosocial behavior brings unique benefits that cannot be reducible to social interactions in general. Therefore, incorporating prosocial behaviors specifically into behavioral activation plans may enhance the efficacy of these interventions. ”
Furthermore, the researchers found support for the third hypothesis by explaining a potential mechanism. how Acts of kindness contribute to happiness. Researchers found that participants in acts of kindness groups significantly reduced public self-absorption, or how much they thought of themselves from the imaginary perspective of others. More importantly, they found that changes in public self-absorption predicted changes in depressive symptom scores, life satisfaction, and social connections. The researchers add that the results “provide some of the first evidence for mechanisms by which acts of kindness change.”
There are some important limitations to note regarding the study. First, the data in this study were collected during his COVID-19, which may have influenced his social environment and dynamics. Second, the participants who performed the thought recording did not receive regular guidance from a professional therapist, which likely increased their well-being. The subjects were adults in large Midwestern cities, and different outcomes may occur in adolescents or individuals living in suburban or rural areas.
While current medical treatments have proven ineffective in stemming the growing wave of distress, the results suggest that acts of kindness are a new, accessible, and effective way to improve well-being. This suggests that there is a possibility of providing a more effective intervention.
Cregg, DR, & Cheavens, JS (2022). Healing by Help: An Experimental Investigation of Kindness, Social Engagement, and Revaluation as Happiness Interventions. journal of positive psychology, 1-18. (Link)