The claim that 'helping makes you happy' has become a staple of pop psychology and self-help manuals. Performing 'random acts of kindness' has been touted as a sure-fire way of boosting your mood — doing good makes you feel good, as well as benefiting others. But do these claims stack up, or are they 'too good to be true'?
In order to find out, a team from the universities of Oxford and Bournemouth carried out a systematic review of the scientific literature. They analysed over 400 published papers that had investigated the relationship between kindness and happiness, and identified 21 studies that had explicitly put the claim to the test – that being kind to others makes us happier. They then conducted a meta-analysis, which statistically combines the results of these previous studies.
On this basis, they calculate that there is indeed an overall effect of kindness on happiness, but that the size of the effect is relatively modest — equivalent to less than one point on a 0-10 happiness scale.