Amit Kumar is currently an Asst. Professor of Marketing and Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. Prior to joining the McCombs faculty, he completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. He received his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Cornell University and his A.B. in Psychology and Economics from Harvard University. Professor Kumar’s research focuses on the scientific study of happiness and has been featured in popular media outlets such as The Atlantic, Bloomberg, Business Insider, CNBC, CNN, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, The Huffington Post, National Geographic, The New York Times, NPR, Oprah Daily, Scientific American, Time Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. His scholarly work has been published in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Current Opinion in Psychology, Emotion, The Journal of Consumer Psychology, The Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and Psychological Science.
Doing Good Feels Surprisingly Good
Every January 22nd, Austin, Texas holds its annual “Hi, How Are You?” Day. On this day, residents of the city are encouraged to connect with their neighbors, simply checking in and asking how they’re doing. The day was proposed with the belief that such seemingly small acts of kindness can make a big difference in someone’s life. It turns out that what might seem like not much at all to those performing other-oriented actions can actually have an unexpectedly positive impact for people on the receiving end of a prosocial act.
Our new research suggests that people who perform random acts of kindness for others systematically underestimate how happy recipients feel when someone does something nice for them, and don’t fully recognize that their kindness can inspire future kind behavior. These miscalibrated expectations matter because they can create a psychological barrier to engaging in warm, kind acts more often in daily life.
In the experiments we conducted, participants who performed a random act of kindness—such as offering their friend a ride home or giving a hot chocolate to a stranger at an ice-skating rink on a cold winter’s day—consistently reported feeling better than they normally do, too, and these performers felt significantly better than participants who did not perform an act of kindness as well. Critically, performers also underestimated how recipients would evaluate their kind act, not realizing the positive impact they had on recipients’ moods. Kindness can meaningfully enhance well-being in our everyday lives to a somewhat surprising extent. A little good doesn’t just go a long way; it goes a surprisingly long way.
This work indicates that both performers and recipients of kindness may be better off if they engaged in random acts of kindness more often. Even better off, in fact, than they might expect.