Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Sharing Acts and Stories of Kindness

Kindness benefits both those who give and receive it.

Key points

  • Kindness can boost the well-being of both the giver and the receiver.
  • When we feel grateful, it is easy to be kind.
  • We can teach our children gratitude and kindness through stories.

“What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” So asked Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the great French philosopher. We all strive to be kind but often wonder what impact a small kindness might really make as we navigate through a too-often-stressful world. A new series of studies just published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology by Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley finds that even small acts of kindness can have a big impact. Even the simple act of giving hot chocolate to someone on a cold day in the park sparks feelings of warmth and positivity in the recipient.

Perhaps this alone is enough to encourage all of us to be more intentional about acting kind. But it turns out that it is good for the giver to be kind as well! Givers receive as much benefit from kind acts as the recipients. Looking across 27 research studies, Oliver Scott Curry and his colleagues find that engaging in kind acts boosts our own sense of well-being, and this effect holds regardless of the gender or age of the giver.

And it is not just in the moment of being kind; our kind acts continue to be a source of well-being through the telling and sharing of stories. Lady Gaga chronicles the myriad ways stories of kindness have a positive impact in her book, Channel Kindness: Stories of Kindness and Community. She tells of the strength and resilience young people found through stories of kindness, of people standing up to bullies, people who created safe spaces and broke through stigma. She shows how stories of kindness stitch communities together and can even save lives. Kindness is impactful, and stories of kindness are powerful forces in our lives.

So how do we inculcate kindness?

How do we teach our children and ourselves to be kind? Jennifer Coffman and Andrea Hussong have been studying how parents discuss experiences of gratitude with their children. Feelings of gratitude can come from lots of different sources, from being grateful for your family and friends to being grateful for opportunities and experiences in one’s life. Feelings of gratitude lead to greater empathy and kindness to others. When we feel fortunate about our own life, we are more likely to be generous and kind to others.

Gratitude finding is a commonly used exercise in positive psychology; simply list three things that you are grateful for every day. These kinds of gratitude exercises are easy and surprisingly successful. People who practice gratitude-finding often feel better about themselves and about their relationships.

And we can teach our children how to do this in more positive ways. Dr. Hussong has designed a simple online parenting tool that can help parents structure conversations with their children in ways that increase their children’s feelings of gratitude. Through a series of short videos and questionnaires, the online tutorial helps parents reflect on their own behaviors and how they can talk with their children about gratitude in more productive ways that promote caring and sharing. Some pointers include:

  • Being child-oriented — express pleasure in what your child shares with you
  • Share your own thoughts and feelings in appropriate ways
  • Ask open-ended questions and listen to how and what your child says

Spending just 30 minutes with these videos changes parents’ behaviors and creates more caring and sharing gratitude conversations. And these conversations increase children’s feelings of gratitude over time.

Feelings of gratitude have multiple benefits, including optimism and resilience, and can even boost immune system functioning. And the more grateful we are, the more kind we are to others, giving them something to be grateful for in turn. What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness? Kindness and gratitude in the moment and through our stories may be the greatest wisdom of all. Pass it on.

References

Kumar, A., & Epley, N. (in press). A little good goes an unexpectedly long way: Underestimating the positive impact of kindness on recipients. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Curry, O. S., Rowland, L. A., Van Lissa, C. J., Zlotowitz, S., McAlaney, J., & Whitehouse, H. (2018). Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 76, 320-329.

Hussong, A. M., Coffman, J. L., & Thomas, T. E. (2020). Gratitude conversations: An experimental trial of an online parenting tool. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15(2), 267-277.

advertisement