What is the impact of practicing kindness?
University of Oxford researchers Lee Rowland and Oliver Scott Curry designed an experiment to investigate the effects of a seven-day kindness activity. Specifically, they wanted to understand whether the type of kindness activity had an impact on the positive effects of kindness. For example: does being kind to family and friends boost well-being more than being kind to strangers (or the other way around)? Does acting kind boost well-being more than observing kindness?
Participants were assigned to unique groups and asked to perform acts of kindness for seven days: 1) for people with whom they have strong social ties (i.e., family and friends); 2) for people with whom they have weak social ties (i.e., strangers); 3) to engage in novel acts of self-kindness (i.e., doing something new and kind for oneself each day); or, 4) to observe acts of kindness (i.e., thinking about past kindness rather than actually doing a kind act). These groups were compared to a no kindness acts control group. The results indicate that performing kindness activities for seven days increases feelings of happiness. In addition, the researchers found that as the number of kind acts per week increased, participants showed increases in happiness. Notably, it did not matter which type of kindness activity that the participants did; being kind to friends, strangers, and to oneself, as well as observing acts of kindness, had equally positive effects on happiness.
Rowland, L., & Curry, O. S. (2018). A range of kindness activities boost happiness. The Journal of Social Psychology, 1-4.
What is the impact of expressing gratitude?
A number of research studies have shown that engaging in a gratitude journaling activity, such as counting one’s blessing or detailing a list of things for which one is thankful, can boost positive feelings. In fact, renowned positive psychology researcher Martin Seligman found that a specific type of gratitude activity called “Three Good Things” (in which individuals write down three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week) results in increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for six months after participating in the activity. Researchers Adam Grant and Francesca Gino also suggest that receiving expressions of gratitude (e.g., being thanked for providing assistance) can result in individuals feeling more valued and more willing to engage in helping behavior (e.g., helping a stranger with a task).
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377.
Grant, A. M., & Gino, F. (2010). A little thanks goes a long way: Explaining why gratitude expressions motivate prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(6), 946.
Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410.
What is the impact of cultivating compassion?
Several researchers have investigated the effects of loving-kindness meditation on emotional and physical well-being. In this specific form of guided meditation, participants are asked to cultivate authentic, warm-hearted, compassionate feelings and thoughts for themselves and for other people. Loving-kindness meditation interventions have been shown to improve general health and well-being, and to enhance positive emotions. This type of meditation has also been shown to reduce depressive symptoms, and to increase compassion and altruistic behavior. One pilot study by a group of researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that a loving-kindness meditation program reduced pain, anger, and psychological distress in patients with persistent low back pain.
Compassion is not just for individuals; organizations that make compassion a foundation of business also see important benefits. When people feel cared for, trusted, and can collaborate effectively in the workplace, this increases the creativity, innovation, adaptability, and engagement of employees. This, in turn, can provide many strategic advantages for an organization, and it has been found that compassion contributes to an organization’s financial resilience, profitability, and customer and employee retention.
Carson, J. W., Keefe, F. J., Lynch, T. R., Carson, K. M., Goli, V., Fras, A. M., & Thorp, S. R. (2005). Loving-kindness meditation for chronic low back pain: Results from a pilot trial. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 23(3), 287-304.
Fredrickson, B. L., Boulton, A. J., Firestine, A. M., Van Cappellen, P., Algoe, S. B., Brantley, M. M., ... & Salzberg, S. (2017). Positive emotion correlates of meditation practice: A comparison of mindfulness meditation and loving-kindness meditation. Mindfulness, 8(6), 1623-1633.
Worline, M., & Dutton, J. E. (2017). Awakening Compassion at Work: The Quiet Power That Elevates People and Organizations. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.