Small Acts of Kindness Improve Mental Health —Study


Stories of strangers being kind to others quickly become viral. A lonely boy gets a surprise birthday party from truckers. A senior resident volunteers to patrol the neighborhood. A writer becomes number 1 bestseller overnight for his debut novel because of a TikTok video. These are just a few of the thousands of stories highlighting kindness of people.

Why are people kind? Why do people help others they don’t even know?

A recent study of The Ohio State University showed doing acts of kindness improves mental health. Many suffer from depression and anxiety, especially after the pandemic. Good thing, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a proven method in dealing with negative thoughts by adding more positive activities back into your life.

Doing random acts of kindness, such as opening the door for someone or paying for another customer’s coffee, is a good way of confronting negative thoughts and bringing in more positive ones.

In the study, participants with medium level of depression were assigned to do one kindness act within five weeks. These methods are: performing small acts of kindness, planning a social activity, and completing a “thoughts record” where participants write distressing thoughts and ways on how they diminished those thoughts.

After the experiment, all participants were less depressed and anxious, had lower negative feelings and felt more satisfied with life. Among the three groups, participants who did random acts of kindness had greater reductions in depression and anxiety and higher satisfaction with life compared to those in the other groups.

Co-author Jennifer Cheavens disclosed that researchers thought the record group might be at an advantage since the participants are doing a method that is tried and tested in addressing depression and anxiety. “But the kindness group did as well or better, and that group also had increases in social connection that didn’t happen in the other two groups.”

The study also found that doing good things for others makes people less self-conscious in public which is a factor in lowering depression and anxiety levels.

“When people engaged in doing things for other people, these prosocial behaviors seemed to attenuate that self-focus that we all get sometimes when we’re in social situations,” Cheavens told the Greater Good Magazine. She believes that performing random acts of kindness is an effective therapeutic strategy since doing something good makes people think less about themselves and more about others.

Kindness and happiness

In addition, several studies show that kindness acts, no matter how small, boosts happiness. The more we show kindness to others, the happier we are and this is also felt by the receiver.

A new research reinforces the positive effects of being kind. In a group of experiments, participants were asked to do simple acts of kindness such as giving out cupcakes or hot chocolate. It showed that the participants underestimated the impact of their kind acts. They didn’t consider how that act creates a ripple effect on the receivers’ lives. A little kindness increases happiness in both the giver and receiver.

Acts of kindness also promote social connections and well-being. “They can strengthen relationships, help you make new friends, give you a more positive, optimistic outlook and enable you to feel good about yourself,” said Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

Many studies have been conducted proving the benefits of kindness. From mental, spiritual, to physical health, doing good is a win on both sides.

Joyce Dimaculangan
Joyce Dimaculangan
Joyce has more than 15 years experience writing news, industry articles and blogs for the private and public sectors. Most of her career was spent writing technical documentation for a software company in the Philippines. She earned a B.A. in Communication Arts with a concentration in writing from the University of the Philippines, Los Baños. During her leisure time, Joyce pursues her interest in reading fiction and playing with her dogs. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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