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Professor Myriam Mongrain's psychology study on kindness attracts media coverage

Professor Myriam Mongrain's psychology study on kindness attracts media coverage

There is karma in kindness. It seems that the Biblical adage of doing unto others, as you’d have them do unto you, pays off in happiness, reported the Toronto Star May 17:

A York University study found that people who performed small acts of kindness – every day for five to 15 minutes for a week – increased their happiness and self-esteem.

After six months, many were still actively helping others and were reporting that their happiness and self-esteem levels were still up, according to the study, which will be published in the spring edition of the Journal of Happiness Studies, an international scientific quarterly available online through Springer science and business media.

Myriam Mongrain, associate professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health and lead author for the study, says 700 people from across Canada were recruited online at the end of 2007 through a Facebook ad and then directed to the survey site, The age group of respondents ranged from 18 to 73 with 80 per cent women and 20 per cent men.

The data collected on the original respondents – before they had started the compassion exercise – showed that the majority were “depressed,” says Mongrain.

Of the original 700 recruits, 458 people completed the first week’s exercise which required them to help or interact with another person every day – it could be someone they knew or a stranger – “in a supportive and considerate’’ way. The positive effects on their happiness and self-esteem were “very strong,” says Mongrain.

After three months 260 responded, with the majority saying that they were still performing acts of kindness – one to three days a week – and feeling the same positive effects. After six months, which was the end of the study, there were 179 responses with most still doing a good deed one to three days a week and feeling happier for it.

Despite the high drop-out rate, the results indicate that the exercise of performing acts of kindness “sustained increases in happiness and self-esteem,’’ says Mongrain, who had help analyzing the data from co-authors of the study, [York University researchers] Jacqueline Chin and Leah Shapira.

The study, funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada, was also covered May 17 in the London Free Press and Toronto Sun and May 18 in The Globe and Mail and on 680 News in Toronto.

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile – York University’s daily e-bulletin.