Acts of Kindness to Improve Your Mood
By: J. MacLaren Kelly, MAPP, PhD
Winter is here and the time between the New Year and spring can be mentally challenging. Waiting for the season to slowly warm, wintery mixes of snow, ice, and freezing rain continue to characterize your work commute. People are hunkered down inside to stay warm and use of public outdoor space is less and less. You may begin feeling a greater sense of loneliness and detachment from others. Your day-to-day work may seem increasingly mundane. You may feel less alert at work and more easily angered/annoyed by what you once considered your coworkers’ unique quirks.
One of the most reliable (and cheapest) ways to foster positive affect is through acts of kindness. Simple brief acts of kindness toward another.
Holding the door for someone, asking someone how they are doing and genuinely waiting for their response, verbalizing aloud your gratitude for another's specific act. These are just some (of an infinite list of examples) that could take less than a minute and make an impact on your day (and another’s day). You have more control than you may realize over how brief encounters with others go, even those encounters that are had remotely and digitally.
These suggestions are not empty platitudes. There is some data on this. Curry and colleagues (2018) reviewed existing experimental work on this topic and found that performing small acts of kindness had an overall small-to-moderate effect on the psychological well-being of the actor… that is, the doer of the kind action, not just the receiver of it. Studies included acts of kindness towards family members, friends, and strangers.
This effect is rather modest, though comparable to other positive psychological interventions (Koydemir et al., 2021). Importantly, the studies reviewed were all experimental in design, so suited for causal inference, not simply associational support (i.e., those who volunteer to help others are generally happier). One limitation of the studies reviewed included only measuring short-term effects, so they were unable to determine how long the benefits lasted.
All in all, being kind toward others could benefit you, so look for opportunities to perform kind acts, especially during these long, cold months before spring.
If your efforts to feel better aren’t working or you’re feeling stressed, down, or anxious, considergiving Behavioral Health Partners a call at (585) 276-6900. Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-U, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression
Curry, O. S., Rowland, L. A., Van Lissa, C. J., Zlotowitz, S., McAlaney, J., & Whitehouse, H. (2018). Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 76, 320-329.
Koydemir, S., Sökmez, A. B., & Schütz, A. (2021). A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of randomized controlled positive psychological interventions on subjective and psychological well-being. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 16, 1145-1185.