It turns out that paying it forward may be good for one’s health. Small acts of kindness often make people feel good, and now a study at the University of California (UC) Riverside seems to prove that.
Researchers there studied the effect that being nice to others has on one’s happiness and determined that a variety of kindnesses seem to maximize the joy it brings to the giver. The same kindness extended repeatedly, such as doing the same chore more than once to help someone, didn’t appear to mean as much to the person doing the favor.
The study also indicated that when people choose their own acts of kindness rather than something they have been directed to do, they get more satisfaction from the activity.
Part of the research at UC Riverside focused on the actions of preteen boys and girls, aged 9 to 12, who were given a series of exercises over the course of four weeks. A comparison was made between the effect on those who showed kindness toward someone and other participants who paid a visit to a place that gave them enjoyment.
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, involved more than 400 students. The kindness group was to perform acts as simple as giving someone a hug or sharing part of their lunch. The second group kept a diary of the places they liked, including a visit to a sports event or a mall.
By the end of the study period, the group was asked to talk about their state of mind and the participants who showed kindnesses indicated they experienced greater happiness than the other group. In addition, their peers were more likely to want to be around them than with the group that visited places they liked.
“The findings suggest that a simple and relatively brief prosocial activity can increase liking among classmates,” said study author Kristin Layous, Ph.D., of UC Riverside.
Kindness benefits all ages
While part of the UC study focused on students, the team’s research and prior studies also show that kindness has a big payoff in terms of personal happiness for people of all ages.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at UC Riverside, said the team determined that social support for being kind to others also boosted the satisfaction of those performing such activities. A simple thank you from a recipient – face to face or through social media – added to the happiness felt by the givers.
In the end, Lyubomirsky said the researchers concluded that the variety, frequency and motivation of their acts all play a role in the personal satisfaction felt by people who perform acts of courtesy and kindness to others. However, choosing to be nice and helpful is also a highly individual matter. When people view it that way, the research indicated they derive even more happiness from their actions.
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