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Random acts of kindness are more rewarding than volunteering and planned generosity, study finds 

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Random acts of kindness are more rewarding and improve the wellbeing of the do-gooder more than volunteering and planned generosity, study finds

  • Researchers analysed the findings of more than 200 studies on generosity
  • They found a ‘modest link’ between doing good and mental health wellbeing
  • The link was at its strongest when the good deed was unplanned and random
  • This is likely due to social bonds forming quicker from random acts of kindness 

Performing random acts of kindness can improve your wellbeing more than any pre-planned act of generosity or time spent volunteering, a new study revealed. 

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong analysed the results of more than 200 previous studies into generosity involving over 198,000 participants.

There is a modest link between doing good and mental and physical wellbeing, but not all studies confirmed the link and some found there were caveats. 

They found that overall unplanned actions such as helping a neighbour with their shopping was more beneficial than a regular volunteering activity. 

This may be because informal helping is more casual and spontaneous and may more easily lead to forming social connections, study authors explained.

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong analysed the results of more than 200 previous studies into generosity involving over 198,000 participants. Stock image

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong analysed the results of more than 200 previous studies into generosity involving over 198,000 participants. Stock image

To better understand the link between doing good and wellbeing, Dr Hui and colleagues analysed the findings of previous studies – finding not all found a link. 

Lead author Dr Bryant Hui said altruism, cooperation, trust and compassion are all necessary ingredients of a harmonious and well-functioning society. 

‘It is part of the shared culture of humankind, and our analysis shows that it also contributes to mental and physical health.’ 

To better understand what led to some studies finding a link and others not finding a link, Dr Hui and his colleagues looked at studies that examined that connection. 

Overall, they found there was a ‘modest’ link between doing good and wellbeing.

But Dr Hui said that although the effect size was small, it was still ‘meaningful’ given how many people perform acts of kindness every day.’ 

‘A modest effect size can still have a significant impact at a societal level when many people are participating in the behaviour,’ Hui explained.

Dr Hui found that random acts of kindness were more strongly associated with overall wellbeing than formal behaviour, such as scheduled volunteering.

He said that ‘informal giving’ is also more varied and less likely to become stale or monotonous than ‘formal giving’.

The researchers also found a stronger link between kindness and what is known as ‘eudaimonic wellbeing’.

This focuses on self-actualisation, realising one’s potential and finding meaning in life – than between kindness and ‘hedonic well-being’ which refers to happiness and positive feelings.

Dr Hui, who began the research while at Cambridge University, noted that the effects also varied by age.

They found that overall unplanned actions such as helping a neighbour with their shopping was more beneficial than a regular volunteering activity. Stock imagee

They found that overall unplanned actions such as helping a neighbour with their shopping was more beneficial than a regular volunteering activity. Stock imagee

Younger givers reported higher levels of overall wellbeing, eudaimonic wellbeing, and psychological functioning.

However, older givers reported higher levels of physical health, Hui explained.

Women showed stronger relationships between prosociality and several measures of wellbeing compared with men, according to the findings.

Dr Hui said that may be because women are stereotypically expected to be more caring and giving, and so derive a stronger sense of good feelings for acting in accordance with those social norms.

He said future research might also examine whether more prosociality is always a good thing, or whether there is an ‘ideal level’ of prosociality beyond which too much kindness and giving become detrimental to the giver.

The findings have been published in the journal Psychological Bulletin. 

BEING GENEROUS ‘REALLY DOES MAKE YOU HAPPY’, STUDY FINDS

Being generous really does make people happier, according to research from an international team of experts.

Neurons in an area of the brain associated with generosity activate neurons in the ventral striatum, which are associated with happiness, the study found.

A group of 50 volunteers in Switzerland took part in a spending experiment, with each given 25 Swiss Francs (£20/$25) per week for four weeks. 

As part of the experiment, participants performed an independent decision-making task, in which they could behave more or less generously while brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

They were asked to choose to give between three and 25 francs of their money as a present to a recipient different from those previously chosen.

The researchers found that participants who had committed to spending their endowment on others behaved more generously in the decision-making task.

They also discovered greater self-reported increases in happiness as compared to the control group. 

The full results were published in the journal Nature Communications.



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