Although we definitely recommend doing both!
A recent study in Hong Kong has shown that people who take part in random acts of kindness generally have more improved well-being than those who take part in planned charitable acts.
The study examined 200 studies performed on 198,000 participants over time. Overall the studies found, in the main, a correlation between helping others and better physical and mental health. But, interestingly, they also found a slight difference between the well-being of those who took part in planned volunteer work or other generous acts and that of those who helped others spontaneously.
The author of the study, Dr Bryant Hui, thought this difference might stem from the social connections that are formed when taking part in random acts of kindness; giving those involved more opportunity to chat, for example.
As the Daily Mail reported, Hui shared that altruism and compassion “is part of the shared culture of humankind, and our analysis shows that it also contributes to mental and physical health.” Although the correlation between this generosity and well-being is only described as “modest,” Hui believes it to be meaningful.
“A modest effect size can still have a significant impact at a societal level when many people are participating in the behavior,” he pointed out. So if everybody took part in random acts then the snowball effect on society would be huge.
Interestingly Hui maintains that the difference in the impact on health between spontaneous and formal acts could be down to the fact that random acts are more varied and so they are less monotonous.
However, one of the best things about random acts of kindness is that they’re more immediate and you often see the result of your generosity. You might send regular donations to a favorite charity, but will you get the same physical reaction when you see the smile on someone’s face when you help carry their shopping?
The research also found a stronger connection between kindness and eudaimonic well-being. The latter concerns self-actualization, whereby you find a meaning in life and you can fulfill your potential. Kindness, however, is linked more to happiness and feelings of positivity.
Hui, who initially started the research at Cambridge University, also found that the impact on the physical and mental health of the participants also varied depending on their age. The younger participants reported “higher levels of well-being, eudaimonic well-being, and psychological functioning,” whereas older people felt their physical health had improved.
Although Hui would like to continue his research, these initial findings are promising, as they may encourage people who may not have the time to regularly volunteer, or the money to make regular donations, to actually make a point of performing random acts of kindness more often.
If you’d like to read more about the study published in the Psychological Bulletin, click here.
While COVID-19 may have put a stop to some of your regular charitable works, take a look at the slideshow to see how to continue showing socially-distanced kindness.