Myriam Mongrain and her colleagues tested a simple exercise which was found to significantly reduce depression: performing acts of kindness.
This investigation also tested another promising exercise (a loving-kindness meditation), which may be the topic of a different article.
The Acts of Kindness exercise studied in this experiment focused on compassionate behaviors in close relationships. The participants who belonged to the group dedicated to test this exercise were asked to be "supportive, empathetic, or helpful" in a relationship that was important to them. They were asked to think of someone who was important in their lives such as a good friend, their significant other or a family member. They were prompted to be helpful and loving in that relationship by demonstrating kindness in their interactions.
Participants' life satisfaction and depression levels were measured before the experiment took place. The 648 participants who participated in this investigation (international online sample) were divided in three groups: one group would do the meditation exercise, another group would do the Acts of Kindness exercise, and the control group would do an interpersonal reflection exercise in which they had to think and write about an interaction they had that day. All the participants were asked to report their progress to the research website every other day for three weeks.
After the participants completed three weeks of performing those exercises, life satisfaction and depression levels were tested again. Participants who completed the Acts of Kindness exercise showed significant decreases in depressive symptoms in comparison to participants in the control group (who didn't do the acts of kindness exercise). All participants reported increases in life satisfaction after completing the exercises.
These results show how meaningful small choices, attitudes and actions can be. We can all choose to perform small acts of kindness daily. It will not only benefit the recipient/s, but also it will benefit our subjective well-being. This investigation also showed how people who initially scored lower on levels of agreeableness and altruism were benefitted from this exercise even more than other participants. Acts of kindness can be directed to anyone: loved ones, as this research studied, and also complete strangers. Compassion and connection can make our inner and social life richer, and strengthen our sense of meaning and community.
Mongrain, M., Barnes, C. Barnhart, R. G. & Zalan, L. B. (2018). Acts of Kindness Reduce Depression in Individuals Low on Agreeableness. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 4 (3), 323-334.
Article written by Maggie Stilman.
The Considerable Journal.
The Considerable Journal's mission is to bring relevant scientific findings closer to people who seek evidence-based paths to integral well-being, by providing briefed, straightforward expositions of scientific research regarding mental and physical health, relationships, habits, and more.