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Kindness Matters More Than You Think

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

New research shows we underestimate the impact of small acts of kindness.

Updated August 19, 2023 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster


  • Kindness has positive, pro-social benefits for givers and receivers.

  • A study demonstrated how people underestimate the impact of their kind gestures.

  • Reflecting on how your kind gestures impacts others may encourage more altruistic acts.

Research has shown that the more kind acts we do for others, the happier we are. That’s right. Being kind is actually selfish in a strange way. It boosts well-being and happiness and has clear pro-social benefits. It doesn’t matter if you’re kind to your best friend or a total stranger. Kindness makes us feel good, and our number of kind acts correlates to how happy we are.

New research makes an even more convincing case for kindness. In a group of experiments in which participants performed small acts of kindness like giving out cupcakes or hot chocolate, participants underestimated the impact of their kind acts. In simple terms, the kind things we do for others have far greater ripple effects in their lives than we think.

The study linked this underestimation to egocentrism. In essence, we’re so wrapped up in thinking about ourselves that we don’t spend enough time thinking about how our kindness affects the recipient.

Last month, I tried to convince students to be kind to each other. We brainstormed ideas like holding doors open for each other and helping classmates with their homework. One of my favourite acts of kindness is sending people cards detailing everything I appreciate or admire about them.

This kindness conversation primed me to be nicer ten minutes later when I went to grab my mid-morning decaf Americano. I noticed a couple of bucks on the floor, grabbed it, and handed it to its rightful owner. She thanked me, and I thought about how good I felt being kind. Then she thanked me again on her way out and wished me a happy holiday.

Until reading about this new research, I didn’t think beyond these thank yours. Being kind made me feel better, so it felt worth it. But if I reflect on how other people’s kindness impacts me, it’s a different story. When people hold the door for me or offer to bring me a coffee, it sometimes makes my whole day or at least turns around a bad day.

Putting It All Together

When we put together all this research on kindness, it adds up as follows. Being kind feels good and has powerful effects on the people we’re kind to. If we spend more time thinking about these ripple effects of our small acts of kindness, we may be more likely to choose kindness more often. Sure, being kind feels good, but if we spend more mental energy thinking about how our kindness impacts others, we may likely lean into prosocial, kind behaviours.

I wish we didn’t need evidence to choose kindness, but here we are. At the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, I hope you’ll choose kindness. It’s good for you. It’s good for others. And it has a bigger impact than you think.



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