Kindness and compassion are behavioral traits often associated with positive feelings. While there have been studies supporting this association through various specific links, not all studies have been able to support a seamless connection. Shedding more light on the matter, new research found evidence which suggests that factors such as age, gender, and also the type of pro-social activity undertaken affects the type of benefits that the giver experiences.
Several studies on the topic have found evidence in varying degrees of strength to suggest that benevolent and/or compassionate behavior resulting in better health, mental and physical, for the giver. However, this cannot be said of all the studies. The new meta-analysis found that unplanned, spontaneous pro-social behavior, or ‘random acts of kindness’, are more effective than planned or formal pro-social behavior.
In other words, helping out someone you come across has more positive health benefit as compared to planned volunteering activities. The effect, the research suggests, could be owing to the casual and non-monotonous nature of the former, which also helps in forming social connections.
“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.”
Furthermore, the study suggested stronger links between kindness and eudaimonic well-being as compared to kindness and hedonic well-being. Eudaimonic well-being refers to the factors which determine the meaning of life for an individual, or the realization of one’s potential. Hedonic well-being, on the other hand, refers to happiness in the moment.
The study also found that through kindness, younger people experienced more overall well-being, while older adults found better physical effects. Women were found to experience more positive effects through pro-social behavior than men. Evidence suggests this could be owing to the feeling of fulfilling social norms that expect women to be more kind and giving.
The results of this study have been published in the Psychological Bulletin journal.