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Kindness makes us happier, but not by much

Press Association logoPress Association 5/10/2016

Being kind to others makes you happy - but not by as much as you think, researchers say.

Far from being the answer to feeling glum, experts have found being kind to other people has a "modest" effect on happiness levels.

Researchers at Oxford and Bournemouth universities examined more than 400 existing studies on the link between kindness and happiness.

They found that while being kind is good for us, it improves happiness only slightly.

The size of the effect was equivalent to less than one point on a zero to 10 happiness scale.

Dr Oliver Scott Curry, of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford, said some articles suggested kindness was a "wonder drug, but it's more like the effect of a paracetamol".

"It seems to be on a par with other positive psychological interventions such as mindfulness and gratitude meditation - where at the end of the day you think about all the positive, nice things that have happened," he said.

Claims "helping makes you happy" have become a staple of pop psychology and self-help manuals, the researchers say.

Performing random acts of kindness have also been touted as a way of elevating mood.

"Humans are social animals. We are happy to help family, friends, colleagues, community members and even strangers under some conditions. This research suggests that people do indeed derive satisfaction from helping others," Dr Curry said.

"This is probably because we genuinely care about others' welfare, and because random acts of kindness are a good way of making new friends and kick-starting supportive social relationships.

"Our review suggests that performing acts of kindness will not change your life, but might help nudge it in the right direction."

Dr Curry said further research was needed to find out if some groups of people were made happier by acts of kindness, and whether acts of kindness towards a stranger had the same effect as kindness towards loved ones.

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