To boost your mental well-being, simply recall, right now, an act of kindness

Just a few weeks ago, a group of mid­dle school stu­dents in Alaba­ma made the news for post­ing pos­i­tive notes on the lock­ers of fel­low stu­dents. For Christ­mas, a few Attle­boro, MA, stu­dents chipped in to buy their beloved school jan­i­tor new boots as a present. And in Decem­ber, a Michi­gan wait­ress received a $2,020 tip for a $23 din­ner bill, spark­ing the “2020 Tip Challenge.”

Peo­ple per­form acts of kind­ness both to do good and to feel good. Research finds that being kind makes us hap­py, can help to low­er our blood pres­sure, and encour­ages stronger social con­nec­tions. Now, a new study sug­gests that we can access some of these ben­e­fits sim­ply by recall­ing acts of kind­ness we did in the past—making kind­ness a gift that keeps on giving.

Researchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, River­side, con­duct­ed a three-day exper­i­ment with 532 under­grad­u­ate stu­dents. The stu­dents were ran­dom­ly assigned to one of four tasks: 1) per­form­ing acts of kind­ness; 2) recall­ing acts of kind­ness they did in the past; 3) per­form­ing and recall­ing acts of kind­ness; and 4) nei­ther per­form­ing nor recall­ing acts of kindness.

On day one, stu­dents in groups 1 and 3 were asked to per­form three acts of kind­ness for some­one else in the next 24 hours. As exam­ples, the researchers sug­gest­ed things like “cook­ing din­ner for friends or fam­i­ly, doing a chore for a fam­i­ly mem­ber, pay­ing for someone’s cof­fee in line behind you, vis­it­ing an elder­ly rel­a­tive, or writ­ing a thank you let­ter.” On day two, stu­dents in groups 2 and 3 were asked to recall acts of kind­ness they did pri­or to the exper­i­ment. On each of the three days, par­tic­i­pants filled out a sur­vey that looked at their pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive feel­ings over the past 24 hours and their over­all life satisfaction.

The researchers found that study par­tic­i­pants across all the kind­ness groups saw an uptick in their well-being over the course of the exper­i­ment. Par­tic­i­pants report­ed an increase in pos­i­tive feel­ings and life sat­is­fac­tion and a decrease in neg­a­tive feel­ings whether they per­formed acts of kind­ness, recalled acts of kind­ness, or did both. And their improved well-being was endur­ing, remain­ing fair­ly sta­ble through day three of the study.

You might imag­ine that par­tic­i­pants who both per­formed and recalled acts of kind­ness would be the hap­pi­est, but doing both didn’t seem to pro­vide an addi­tion­al ben­e­fit. As the researchers sum it up, “Indi­vid­u­als who seek to effi­cient­ly improve their well-being may be just as suc­cess­ful by remem­ber­ing kind acts that they have per­formed in the past as actu­al­ly doing more such acts in the future.”

Does this mean we can sim­ply sit at home and pon­der our past gen­eros­i­ty, rather than get­ting out into the world and being kind to oth­ers? The answer is no, of course, even beyond all the altru­is­tic rea­sons you might have for being kind.

We do not sug­gest that peo­ple should stop being kind to oth­ers. Indeed, hap­pi­ness seek­ers should con­tin­ue to act proso­cial­ly towards oth­ers to cre­ate more mem­o­ries of these acts,” the researchers write. After all, you have to per­form acts of kind­ness in order to have acts to remember.

The major take­away from this study is a reminder not to for­get all of our past acts of kind­ness, which can also be a source of well-being. If you’re look­ing for a quick boost, take a few min­utes to recall the last time you did some­thing nice for some­one. And the next time you per­form an act of kind­ness, make sure you log that kind­ness mem­o­ry so you can revis­it it later.

– Shan­na B. Tiay­on, Ph.D., is a soci­ol­o­gist with a spe­cial­iza­tion in Social Psy­chol­o­gy, a well-being con­sul­tant and a con­trib­u­tor to Greater Good. Based at UC-Berke­ley, Greater Good high­lights ground break­ing sci­en­tif­ic research into the roots of com­pas­sion and altru­ism. Copy­right Greater Good.

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About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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