That act of kindness you think is too insignificant to matter likely does more good than you know. We tend to think that expressing empathy to the receptionist whose arm is in a cast, for example, is frivolous. We expect him to enjoy our nicety mildly and momentarily, but nothing more to result from it. Researchers from the University of Chicago and University of Texas at Austin, however, uncovered that the positive impact of our acts of kindness are typically greater than we think. Their new study suggests that the receptionist likely considers our interest and empathy a palpable contribution to his wellbeing and correctly so. In fact, research shows that small acts of kindness can improve the receptionist’s life in several concrete ways:
- Health. Another study found that when doctors empathized with patients afflicted with a cold, patients showed a stronger immune response in blood tests, suffered less severe symptoms and recovered a day faster. Other research found that one minute of empathy is enough to trigger these health benefits. Bottom line? Your kindness might help the receptionist ditch the cast sooner.
- Happiness. A research project at a plant in Madrid divided over 100 workers into three groups. Without the other two groups knowing, one group was asked to perform one small act of kindness per week for members of the second group, the receivers. The givers did things any of us could, such as surprising a coworker with a mid-afternoon cookie or spending five minutes helping them complete a simple chore. The third group was composed of neither givers nor receivers. They served as the control group. Researchers collected wellbeing data periodically from all hundred plus workers. Guess what? That one modest act of kindness a week generated a boost in happiness in receivers that lasted weeks. This finding suggests that if you’re kind to the same receptionist once a week, you could permanently raise his happiness!
- Generosity. Giving is highly contagious. In the aforementioned Madrid study, the recipients of the good deeds proceeded to triple the number of good deeds they performed. Your kindness will likely result in the receptionist treating coworkers and customers better. They, in turn, will triple their kindness and so on. Your kind gesture unleashes a positive ripple across space and time, possibly indefinitely.
- A plethora of indirect benefits. If you’ve followed me for a while or read Do Good at Work, you know that by triggering others to perform more good deeds, per the above bullet, you’ve improved their quality of life. Specifically, your kindness likely also reduced their stress, dampened any negative emotions, strengthened their work performance and even improved their finances.
So, go ahead and share those empathic words with the receptionist, send a “great job today!” text to your team member, order chocolate for your colleague, offer your accountant feedback on their website, write that LinkedIn recommendation for your coworker or otherwise invest a few minutes or dollars (or pesos, euros, etc.) in kindness. It makes a difference!
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Learn more about Bea’s book, Do Good at Work.