Move over, mean girls. Researchers from the University of California, Riverside conducted a study that showed tweens who perform acts of kindness towards others are both happier, and also tend to be more popular. The study examined 400 students ages 9-11 in Vancouver, British Columbia and tracked acts of kindness directed at other classmates.
The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE here, divided students into two groups. Tweens in one group were told to engage in pro-social behavior and perform three acts of kindness toward classmates each week for four weeks. While it was up to the students to decide what constituted an act of kindness, examples they gave included “gave my mom a hug when she was stressed by her job” and “gave someone some of my lunch." The other group of students was asked to track when they visited places they enjoyed. Those children did experience an increase in happiness, but the group that performed acts of kindness showed a greater increase in happiness. In addition to being happier,tThe children who were asked to be deliberately kind were more liked by classmates after the four weeks.
The take away: doing good for others benefits the givers, earning them not only improved well-being but also popularity.
While not rocket science, it is the first study to link a manipulation of a simple helping behavior to increases in sociometric popularity (as assessed by peer reports), according to eMaxHealth.com.
This study confirms that Booker T. Washington was right when he said, “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”
The researchers say that encouraging simple "positive acts" could help children to get along better, explaining, "Increasing peer acceptance is a critical goal, as it is related to a variety of important academic and social outcomes, including reduced likelihood of being bullied."
“Our study demonstrates that doing good for others benefits the givers, earning them not only improved well-being but also popularity. Considering the importance of happiness and peer acceptance in youth, it is noteworthy that we succeeded in increasing both among preadolescents through a simple pro-social activity,” the researchers said. They said that they were not completely surprised that students increased in happiness, but they were "surprised that a simple activity could change the dynamics of a well-established classroom."
While the study's authors encourage teachers and administrators to regularly encourage pro-social activities into the classroom, Debbie Glasser, Ph.D. in Psychology Today suggests that parents take advantage of the start of the new year and talk with tweens about ways they can act kindly, both at home and in the community.
I think it is important that tweens understand that acts of kindness must be sincere, and performed for the purpose of kindness and not just for the benefit of the one performing the act. I would like to see more examination of the connection between well-being and popularity. Clearly, doing something nice just to become popular isn't going to work. But being kind for kindness sake makes a difference to others, and seeing the difference is a great reward, resulting in a feeling of happiness.
Make a list of ways your tween(s) can be kind in different scenarios: in school, at home, in their community. Coming up with concrete items, like saying "hello" to a quiet classmate or helping a friend with a broken arm or even sharing a bit of lunch (or the lunch table) with someone, gives your tween a list of action items. For ideas of activities you can do together as a family, check out Big Hearted Families.