We all want to be happy, right? Unfortunately it’s not always easy to achieve!
Many popular psychology articles and self-help books advise us to engage in random acts of kindness. The advice is from positive psychology studies which suggest that putting others ahead of yourself is the key to happiness.
But are they right?
Kindness Or Selfishness ?
Researchers at the University of Oxford decided to find out. They looked at over 400 articles on the subject of kindness boosting happiness. Of these articles only 21 actually put the idea to the test. These studies tested whether altruism has the benefit of making the giver, as well as the receiver, more happy. In total, 2,685 people were tested.
The Oxford team then conducted a meta-analysis on the studies. Wait, don’t tune out! A meta-analysis is just a statistical way of combining the results of the studies into one. So lots of smaller studies can be examined as if they were one large one.
And the good news is that giving does actually boost happiness for both giver and receiver. Yay! Unfortunately, the effect is not as big as the individual studies had led us to believe…
“Our review suggests that performing acts of kindness will not change your life, but might help nudge it in the right direction. “
Dr Oliver Scott Curry, Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, Oxford
In fact, the effect seems to be quite modest. Worse, they found that lower quality studies had a habit of overstating their findings. So in reality the happiness increase might be small. Real, but small.
Targeted Or Random Acts Of Kindness ?
Most of the studies do not distinguish between kindness towards people we care for (family & friends) and random strangers. So maybe we feel better giving to our friends rather than doing random acts of kindness for strangers. Then again, helping strangers might help boost our self-esteem more, as well as making us feel more integrated into society. More research is needed.
There is much anecdotal evidence that performing random acts of kindness make people feel happier. Presumably, it also makes the world seem that little bit nicer for those on the receiving end. Who doesn’t want to live in a world where everyone helps each other in small ways?
The analysis was funded by Kindness.org, a non-profit organization that aims to fund new research into altruism. It also hopes to run kindness initiatives to encourage people to be a little bit nicer. Charmingly, Kindness.org itself runs on a kind donation from anonymous backer.
So, what to do? Giving definitely makes you happier, if only by a little bit. It also makes the receiver happy. So it’s still a win-win scenario for all involved. Just don’t expect it to radically change your life…
So what do you think? Is altruism or hedonism the path to happiness?