Humans are hardwired to feel good when performing acts of kindness towards others, an imperative trait in any animal that evolves to live and hunt in social groups.
This is such a truism that performing random acts of kindness for other people was more effective in reducing symptoms of depression than specifically planning activities for the sake of enjoyment, a new study found.
The study sought to test methods of cognitive behavioral therapy, a non-pharmaceutical treatment for depression and anxiety that’s proven to work through confronting patterns of thought and behavior that lead to depressive or anxious thoughts, and consciously moving away from them by retraining one’s brain.
The methods included random acts of kindness, such as buying a stranger’s coffee at Starbucks or baking cookies for the mailman, as well as planning fun activities twice a week and “cognitive reappraisal,” which coaches people with depression or anxiety to record triggering thoughts, and actively contemplate what would make the resulting stress diminish.
The participants would record a variety of feelings as measurements before the study, during the study, and five weeks after its conclusion. These included feelings of social isolation, self-consciousness in public, or life satisfaction.