Does Kindness Make You Happier?
We take our happiness seriously. You could almost say we’re obsessed with it.
You constantly see articles, gurus, and books that give us advice on how to be happy. And one thing you probably hear often……
“Being kind to others will make you happier.”
For some, this may sound too self-help like. Helping others is important, but if you’re like me, you may want your happiness advice backed up with a bit more scientific muster.
So what does the science say?
Dr. James Roberts, author of Shiny Objects, gives us an important statistic from happiness research:
…they’ve found that happy people are ten times more likely to be other-oriented than self-centered. This suggests that happiness is a by-product of helping others rather than the result of its pursuit.
So there’s definitely a scientific precedent. It backs up the claim that helping others……does indeed make us happy. And other researchers have also recently taken a hard look at this claim.
Their study, published as part of the Open Science Framework, identified over 400 research articles that looked at the effect that kindness had on happiness. Using some strict guidelines to identify high quality studies, they ended up reviewing a total of 21.
They found some good news. But also a bit of bad….
Good News First
So the big finding first.
They did, indeed, find that kindness has a real and noticeable effect on our well-being. They reported as a “small to moderate” effect from kindness on happiness levels. But they also noticed that there was plenty of room for improvement in the research.
They warned that the size of the effect is smaller than what the media usually reports. This may be a result of a bit of publication bias which the researchers noticed, as well as smaller studies reporting larger effects.
The authors of the study take a modest approach when interpreting the results, though. The lead researcher, Dr. Oliver Scott Curry, stated:
Offering kindness to others has been explored as a possible panacea for many of our social ills, ranging from social isolation to more serious mental and physical health conditions.
Our review suggests that performing acts of kindness will not change your life, but might help nudge it in the right direction.
A cautious approach is probably wise, considering that areas of psychology and sociology research have recently had issues with replication and statistical errors.
But don’t fear, because there’s still plenty of reason to be optimistic about kindness research.
What’s the Long Term Effects of Kindness?
Even if the review only found a small to moderate effect, it’s good to remember that most of the studies only looked at short term happiness. Not how continued acts of kindness would affects someone’s happiness long term. So there could be a lot of positive effects from kindness if one keeps at it. Even above happiness and well-being.
The researchers also point out that our understanding of kindness could be further improved by looking at who is being helped and how.
What does that mean?
For example, people who are more socially isolated may see greater benefits from volunteer work than just donating money to a charity.
Also, helping different types of people might have stronger or weaker effects. Helping close friends or family move into a new house might be more beneficial than helping a stranger across the street.
These are all questions that future research needs to answer.
Kindness is Real
Dr. Scott, who was a part of the study, sums it up by saying:
This research suggests that people do indeed derive satisfaction from helping others.
This is probably because we genuinely care about others’ welfare, and because random acts of kindness are a good way of making new friends, and kick-starting supportive social relationships.
So if you’re looking for a boost in happiness or subjective well-being – as well as just being a good all around person – then don’t forget to factor in some pro-social behavior.
Kate Ter Haar