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Why Random Acts of Kindness Are More Powerful Than We Realize

Here’s motivation to help you to get up and do a good turn today.

Credit: Getty Images

Holding the door open for the person behind you. Bringing a plate of cookies to a neighbor “just because.” Asking a service person, “How are you?” before diving into your question.

These are all examples of random acts of kindness, the seemingly simple actions that don’t take much of our time but leave us feeling good about what we can do in a complex world.

Psychologists have long noted the benefits of acting with kindness. But those on the receiving end feel even better than we realized, according to recent research from the University of Texas at Austin.

In one study, participants gave hot chocolate to strangers in a park—and underestimated the mood boost the recipients would have when they learned the treat was an anonymous gift.

In another, participants who were given cupcakes and then invited to give away their cupcakes to strangers failed to recognize that those who got cupcakes from strangers reported greater happiness than those who had knowingly received cupcakes as part of the study.

And a third study showed that people who received cash through a random act of kindness were more generous in giving some of the money away when they were offered the opportunity to do so (or not).

Amit Kumar, a lead researcher on the studies, says people understand the benefits of kindness for the giver far more than for the receiver. “They get that being kind to people makes them feel good,” he said, “What we don’t get is how good it really makes others feel.”

So next time you have some cookies to spare or time on your calendar to give a friend a ride to an appointment or a free moment to stand a neighbor’s tipped-over garbage bin back up, remember that your seemingly simple act of kindness will do more than give just yourself a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

The more we stop underestimating the powerful difference kindness makes in the lives of those who benefitted from our kindnesses, the more reasons we have to keep investing our time and energy in bringing goodness into the world, act by act, day by day.

Have you done a random act of kindness today?

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