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  • Writer's pictureKerry Scott-Gillett

Simple ways to boost well-being #3 - do good for others

Updated: Apr 12, 2023


In today's individualistic society, we are often taught that - in order to be happier - we should look out for ourselves and prioritise our own wants and needs.


However, whilst this may be a popular sentiment, it is often contradicted by psychological research – with many studies finding that doing good deeds for others is more likely to boost well-being compared to self-focused actions or behaviours.


In one such study, researcher Katherine Nelson and colleagues (2016) asked participants to perform three acts of kindness - for either themselves, other people or humanity in general - on one day of the week across a four-week period.


At the end of the study, the researchers found that participants who had done good deeds for either other people or broader humanity reported more positive emotions - such as happiness, joy and pleasure, whilst negative emotions (such as anxiety and depression) decreased.


Additionally, participants experienced increased levels of psychological flourishing - with their overall well-being improving across the four weeks and beyond.


By contrast, participants who only did acts of kindness for themselves reported no change in their emotional state. They also experienced a decline in psychological flourishing - suggesting that focusing solely on self-centred behaviours may negatively affect our well-being instead of benefitting it as common societal messages claim.


It is important to note that although the findings from this study were positive, doing kind deeds for others only had a moderate impact on well-being levels – although this may be because participants were instructed to perform such acts, rather than doing them of their own volition (e.g. see Nelson and colleagues, 2015).


However, regardless of the extent to which doing good for others increases well-being, every little helps - particularly in stressful times.


Furthermore, such deeds take little time or effort (think holding open a door for someone, picking up a piece of litter or sharing pleasantries with a passer-by on the street) – and not only can you feel good about making a positive difference to someone else's life (regardless of how big or small a contribution), but you may also find yourself happier too.


To find out more about how well-being coaching can support your mental health and help you thrive in challenging times, call today on 01684 325125 or book a free consultation.

 

References


Nelson, S. K., Della Porta, M. D., Jacobs Bao, K., Lee, H. C., Choi, I., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2015). “It’s up to you”: Experimentally manipulated autonomy support for prosocial behavior improves well-being in two cultures over six weeks. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10, 463– 476. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.983959.


Nelson, S. K., Layous, K., Cole, S. W., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2016). Do unto others or treat yourself? The effects of prosocial and self-focused behavior on psychological flourishing. Emotion, 16(6), 850–861. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000178.

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