A New Study Finds that Performing Acts of Kindness Improves Mental Health Symptoms
Humans are hardwired to feel good when performing acts of kindness towards others, an imperative trait in any animal that evolves to live and hunt in social groups.
This is such a truism that performing random acts of kindness for other people was more effective in reducing symptoms of depression than specifically planning activities for the sake of enjoyment, a new study found.
Acts of Kindness
The study sought to test methods of cognitive behavioral therapy, a non-pharmaceutical treatment for depression and anxiety that’s proven to work through confronting patterns of thought and behavior that lead to depressive or anxious thoughts, and consciously moving away from them by retraining one’s brain.
The methods included random acts of kindness, such as buying a stranger’s coffee at Starbucks or baking cookies for the mailman, as well as planning fun activities twice a week and “cognitive reappraisal,” which coaches people with depression or anxiety to record triggering thoughts, and actively contemplate what would make the resulting stress diminish.
The participants would record a variety of feelings as measurements before the study, during the study, and five weeks after its conclusion. These included feelings of social isolation, self-consciousness in public, or life satisfaction.
“We did think that, if there was going to be an advantage of one group over another, it might be the thoughts record group, since that’s such a tried-and-true way of addressing depressive [and anxiety] symptoms,” coauthor Jennifer Cheavens of Ohio State University, told the Greater Good Magazine.
“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.”
Indeed, all three groups experienced improvements in the measurements. The random acts of kindness group had a much bigger impact on positive cognition and emotions early on which tapered off as the study period advanced. The thoughts records, or cognitive reappraisal group had the opposite effect, where it started off negative, but became stronger and stronger over time.
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Another surprise was just how easy it was for the random acts of kindness group to perform the kind acts.
“I was surprised it was not a particularly hard sell,” Cheavens continued. “The people in the acts of kindness group had better uptake in some ways than the people in other groups.”
The kindness acts is a particularly important finding because it necessitates a connection with other people. Social isolation is a high-risk factor for survival; the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Cheavens felt that as well as being a powerful therapeutic strategy, random acts of kindness can be “add-on therapy” to pretty much most mental health disorders, reasoning that anytime we can get out of our own heads, it seems to be of benefit to our well-being.
ACT On This Finding And Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Towards Others…
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