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Happy to Help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor

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Abstract

Do acts of kindness improve the well-being of the actor? Recent advances in the behavioural sciences have provided a number of explanations of human social, cooperative and altruistic behaviour. These theories predict that people will be ‘happy to help’ family, friends, community members, spouses, and even strangers under some conditions. Here we conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis of the experimental evidence that kindness interventions (for example, performing ‘random acts of kindness’) boost subjective well-being. Our initial search of the literature identified 489 articles; of which 24 (27 studies) met the inclusion criteria (total N=4,045). These 27 studies, some of which included multiple control conditions and dependent measures, yielded 52 effect sizes. Multi-level modelling revealed that the overall effect of kindness on the well-being of the actor is small-to-medium (δ = 0.28). The effect was not moderated by sex, age, type of participant, intervention, control condition or outcome measure. There was no indication of publication bias. We discuss the limitations of the current literature, and recommend that future research test more specific theories of kindness: taking kindness-specific individual differences into account; distinguishing between the effects of kindness to specific categories of people; and considering a wider range of proximal and distal outcomes. Such research will advance our understanding of the causes and consequences of kindness, and help practitioners to maximise the effectiveness of kindness interventions to improve well-being.

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... For example, acts of kindness, practicing gratitude, and spirituality are widely considered important for psychological health; however, in this study, these actions were not found to be as important as those relevant to the 5 factors. This lack of findings is broadly consistent with the results of empirical studies [53][54][55][56][57][58][59]. ...
... For example, in a systematic review and meta-analysis of 27 experimental studies examining the relationships between acts of kindness and different measures of subjective well-being, including measures of psychological health, Curry et al [53] found the overall effect of kindness to be small to medium (δ=0.28); however, they noted that most of the reviewed studies were underpowered to detect small differences. ...
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