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Performing acts of kindness and helping other people is beneficial to one’s health, a new study has confirmed. While all prosocial behaviours are linked to improve physical and mental well-being, the research highlights spontaneous random acts of kindness as most strongly associated with overall health.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Bulletin, involved a meta-analysis of 201 independent studies and comprising more than 198,000 participants in total to look for a link between prosocial behaviours and well-being. The international research team, hailing from the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Shue Yan University, Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Cambridge, found that while all pro-social behaviours help to boost one’s health, the strength of the connection between health and acts of kindness depends on the type of prosocial behaviour and other demographic factors.
“Pro-social behaviour – altruism, cooperation, trust and compassion – are all necessary ingredients of a harmonious and well-functioning society,” said Bryant P.H. Hui, lead author and 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.”
Random acts of kindness, such as helping neighbours with their groceries, were found to have the strongest association with overall health than other more formalised prosocial behaviours, such as weekly volunteering at an organisation. These random acts, called “informal giving”, tend to be more varied and are unlikely to be monotonous, and could lead to the creation of new social connections that then benefit one’s health, both physically and mentally.
Prosocial behaviour – 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.Bryant P.H. Hui, lead author of the study
Scientists also discovered a stronger connection between kindness and “eudaimonic well-being” – a focus on realising one’s potential and finding the true meaning of life instead of happiness or positive emotions.
Beyond the stronger correlation between health and the type of prosocial behaviour, the researchers found variations in the health impacts experienced by the participants according to demographic factors such as age and gender.
While younger people performing acts of kindness reported higher levels of overall psychological well-being, older groups felt greater impacts on their physical functioning. Women of all ages were also shown to have stronger links between prosocial behaviour and health compared to men.
Lead image courtesy of Getty Images.