At the time, I didn’t see the chocolate chip cookies as anything special. I had invited a co-worker to my home and wanted to bake a treat for us to share.
Even though that was nearly 30 years ago, she still remembers the cookies, not because they were that good, but because it was the kindness she needed that day.
Kindness in its simplest form can be powerful for the giver and the receiver.
A new study conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University shows that doing kind things for other people can help you fight feelings of depression and anxiety.
The research team of David Cregg and Jennifer Cheavens found that performing acts of kindness led to improvements not seen in two other therapeutic techniques used to treat depression and anxiety.
Acts of kindness promote social connections
Cregg, who led the research as part of his doctoral dissertation in psychology at OSU, added that acts of kindness toward others were the only studied mental health intervention that resulted in subjects feeling more connected with other people.
“Social connection is one of the ingredients of life most strongly associated with well-being. Performing acts of kindness seems to be one of the best ways to promote those connections,” Cregg said in an article for Ohio State News.
The research also revealed that performing acts of kindness worked so well because it helped people take their minds off their own depression and anxiety symptoms.
For the study, researchers worked with 122 people living in central Ohio with moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.
After an introductory session, the volunteers were divided into three groups. Two of the groups were assigned to techniques often used in cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) for depression: planning social activities or cognitive reappraisal.
Those in the social activities group were instructed to plan social gatherings for two days a week.
Those in the cognitive reappraisal group were told to keep records for at least two days per week to help them pinpoint and change negative thought patterns to help reduce their depression and anxiety.
Members of the third group were told to perform three acts of kindness daily for two days a week.
The researchers defined an “act of kindness” as “big or small acts that benefit others or make others happy, typically at some cost to you in terms of time or resources.”
Participants reported different acts of kindness like baking cookies for friends, offering to drive a friend somewhere they needed to go and leaving sticky notes for roommates with encouraging words.
The findings showed that participants in all three groups showed an increase in life satisfaction and a reduction of depression and anxiety symptoms after the 10-week study.
“These results are encouraging because they suggest that all three study interventions are effective at reducing distress and improving satisfaction,” Cregg said. “But acts of kindness still showed an advantage over both social activities and cognitive reappraisal by making people feel more connected to other people, which is an important part of well-being,” he said.
Cregg said that while this study used techniques of CBT, it is not the same experience as going through CBT. Those who undergo the full treatment may have better results than those in this study.
Still, the findings show that even the limited CBT exposure given in this study can be helpful, Cheavens said.
And beyond traditional CBT, acts of kindness may have additional benefits in creating social connections, Cregg said. “Something as simple as helping other people can go above and beyond other treatments in helping heal people with depression and anxiety,” he said.
Details of the study by Cregg and Cheavens were published in The Journal of Positive Psychology. It’s inspiring to know that we can heal through helping. What can you do to spread a little kindness? Here are a few additional suggestions for acts of kindness:
- Ask someone how he or she feels and mean it.
- Say something positive about yourself
- Write a handwritten letter and mail it.
- Cook a meal for someone going through a rough time.
- Leave quarters at the laundromat or vending machine.
- Send coloring books to sick children in the hospital.
- Be kind to yourself!
Laurie Sidle is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences program assisstant and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was previously published in The Daily Record.