Lately, it seems like the world is full of hate. Everywhere you look—local and national news, social media—it feels like no one is getting along and bad things are always happening. Many of us probably feel like it’s easier to put up a wall and avoid or limit interactions with strangers. But is cutting yourself off from unfamiliar people the best course of action?
You’ve probably heard that a small act of kindness goes a long way. And it turns out, that’s not just an old saying. A recent study shows that not only is this idea true, but we’re probably underestimating just how much power kindness really has.
The Journal of Experimental Psychology recently published a study titled “A Little Good Goes An Unexpectedly Long Way: Underestimating the Positive Impact of Kindness on Recipients.” In it, researchers found that we undervalue the positive impact that random acts of kindness have.
“Performing random acts of kindness increases happiness in both givers and receivers, but we find that givers systematically undervalue their positive impact on recipients,” the study reads.
Researchers had subjects perform a series of experiments—from giving away a cup of hot chocolate in a Chicago park to giving away $100 gift cards to split with another person. And they found that those performing the kind acts “consistently underestimated how positive their recipients would feel” because they thought the act was of less value than the receiver perceived it to be.
“Performers of an act of kindness can miss out on the fact that simply engaging in a warm, kind act can be meaningful for recipients beyond whatever it is that they are giving to them,” said study author Amit Kumar, assistant professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
Researchers also found that we don’t realize the ripple effect that random acts of kindness can produce. Not only do we not realize how good it makes a person feel, but we underestimate how much the recipient wants to pay it forward.
Kumar noted that the “additional warmth that comes from being on the receiving end of an act of kindness” is what drives this whole concept. He added that “generosity can sometimes be contagious.”
Why does all of this matter? Well, as Kumar puts it, underestimating the positive impact of kindness can prevent us from actually doing those things in daily life.
“If you knew that you were making an even more positive impact, you’d be more likely to do this action. But if you think it will make only a little bit of impact, perhaps you’re less likely to pursue this behavior,” Kumar explained.
So, don’t be afraid to give someone a compliment, write a positive online review for a local small business that you enjoy, visit a nursing home and play board games with residents, or smile at someone who looks like they’re having a bad day. You never know just how much impact that simple act can have—for everyone involved.