Being kind and helping others can be good for the giver’s health and well-being, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.
But, according to a new study, not all kind behavior is equally beneficial to the giver.The study was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.
“Prosocial behavior — altruism, cooperation, trust and compassion — are all necessary ingredients of a harmonious and well-functioning society,” said lead author Bryant P.H. Hui, PhD, a research assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong. “It is part of the shared culture of humankind, and our analysis shows that it also contributes to mental and physical health.”
Previous studies have suggested that people who engage in more prosocial behavior (kindness, altruism, generosity) are happier and have better mental and physical well-being than people who are not so prosocial.
However, not all studies have found evidence for that link, and the strength of the connection varies widely in the research literature that Hui examined.
To better understand what accounts for the variation, Hui and his colleagues performed a meta-analysis of 201 independent studies, comprising 198,213 total participants, that looked at the connection between prosocial behavior and the giver’s well-being. Overall, they found that there was a link between the two.
“More than a quarter of Americans volunteer, for example,” he said. “A modest effect size can still have a significant impact at a societal level when many people are participating in the behavior.”
Digging deeper into the research, Hui found that random and often spontaneous acts of kindness, such as helping an older neighbor carry groceries, were more strongly associated with overall giver well-being than formal, and organized prosocial behavior, such as scheduled volunteering for a charity. That may be because informal helping is more casual and spontaneous and may more easily lead to forming social connections, according to Hui.
The researchers also found a stronger link between kindness and what is known as eudaimonic well-being (which focuses on self-actualization, realizing one’s potential and finding meaning in life), than between kindness and hedonic well-being (which equates well- being with pleasure and happiness ).
The effects varied by age, according to Hui, who began this research at the University of Cambridge. People who are younger who are prosocial reported higher levels of overall well-being, eudaimonic well-being, and psychological functioning, in contrast to older prosocial givers who reported higher levels of physical health. In addition, Hui found that women showed stronger relationships between prosociality and several measures of well-being compared to men.
The main takeaways from this research seems to be:
· Prosocial behavior resulted in higher levels of well-being for the giver than non-prosocial people.
Random unplanned acts of kindness and altruism seemed to have a greater positive effect on the giver than planned schedule formal activities.
Read my latest book: Toxic Bosses: Practical Wisdom for Developing Wise, Moral and Ethical Leaders