The American Psychology Association published research showing how performing acts of kindness can be good for people's health and well-being. The study, published in Psychological Bulletin, was lead by Bryant P.H. Hui, PhD, research assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong, who performed a meta-analysis of 201 independent studies, comprising 198,213 total participants.
While previous studies have suggested that people who participate in prosocial behavior are happier, the overall research literature on the topic varies widely. The researchers specifically analyzed the connection between participants' prosocial behavior and well-being. They found that there was a modest link between the two; although they did note that while the effect size was small, it was still meaningful. Among the different studies there was also a stronger correlation discovered between the studies that solely focused on the connection between prosociality and well-being, versus the studies that were not specifically on this topic.
"A modest effect size can still have a significant impact at a societal level when many people are participating in the behavior," explained Hui.
When the researchers dug deeper, they found that random acts of kindness (e.g., randomly helping a stranger with a task), were more strongly associated with overall well-being than formal prosocial behavior (e.g., volunteering). The researchers believe this link may be due to the fact that informal helping is more spontaneous, which can lead to forming social connections. Informal giving is also more varied and less likely to become stale or monotonous.
More specifically, there was a stronger link between random acts of kindness and eudaimonic well-being, which focuses on self-actualization and realizing one's potential, than between kindness and hedonic well-being, which refers to positive feelings.
The report concluded that future studies should look into the important moderators that the research has largely ignored so far, for example ethnicity and social class. The researchers also suggest that future studies look into whether more prosocial behavior is best or if there is an "ideal level."