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By Dr. Kate McGraw
Jan 05, 2024

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christian Salazar
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christian Salazar

Did you ever wonder how your kind behavior and the kind behavior of others impacts your mental health? Scientists are studying how to measure and define kindness, and how it may influence changes in our health, regardless of whether we gift the kindness or are the recipient of kind gestures.

There are many ways to define kindness1. One way might be to think of it as an act of doing something nice for someone else, with an intent to demonstrate care or warm feelings towards another. The act could be as simple as bringing someone a cup of coffee or giving someone words of encouragement in a stressful situation. It could be offering to help your company commander with a difficult task, or carrying more of the load when someone in your squadron is having a tough day. The potential compounded impact of kind acts could be enormous for everyone involved.

If you’re a provider, there’s is a growing body of published research on the impact of kindness in the interaction between provider and patient on one’s overall wellness, to include mental health. For example, one meta-analysis of 13 randomized control trials found significant effects of a good patient-physician relationship (which included measures of perceived kindness) on patient health outcomes such as blood pressure control, asthma severity, and osteoarthritis pain2. Another systematic review and meta-analysis (27 studies, total population of 4,045) found that acts of kindness are likely to improve the actor’s well-being.3 Hake and Post worked to develop a patient self-report measure of kindness for use in the health care environment.  The items they included in their scale measure whether the provider was smiling when they greeted the patient, listened to the patient carefully and seemed interested, and took patient concerns seriously. These factors were all shown to be correlated with patient perception of provider kindness (2023). As providers, we can engage in these simple kind acts with all our patients, which may lead to improved patient outcomes.

Whether or not you are a provider, it might be helpful to know if engaging in kind acts can reduce your own symptoms of depression or anxiety or improve your sense of connectedness to others. Cregg and Cheavens4 conducted a study with 122 randomly assigned participants to examine if acts of kindness were comparable to other effective interventions such as increased social activities or use of thought records (cognitive reappraisal techniques, a type of cognitive behavioral technique) to improve social connectedness and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. They found the group who engaged in acts of kindness had greater improvement in measures of social connection compared to the CR and SA intervention groups; improvements in measures of depression, anxiety, and life satisfaction were also greater in the acts of kindness group than the CR intervention group.

What can you do to incorporate this research into your daily well-being practice? A good start is to recognize that we may be our own obstacle to increasing our kind acts towards others, as we may underestimate the impact of our kind acts on others. Not fully appreciating the magnitude our seemingly small kind act may have for the recipient may dampen our drive to engage. However, our acts of kindness do appear to matter a lot to those who receive them, probably more than we think, especially if perceived warmly5.

There are many opportunities you can find or create to engage in small acts of kindness towards others every day, if you look for them. Your small kind acts are likely to have large positive impact on others, bring health benefits to you, and hopefully, make the world seem a bit brighter from the kind fuel you feed it.

Remember, 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support via phone or chat for people in distress, resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. For the Military/Veterans Crisis Line, dial 988 and press 1 or text 838255.


  1. Hake, A.B. & Post, S.G. (2023) Kindness: Definitions and a pilot study for the development of a kindness scale in healthcare. PLoS ONE 18(7): e0288766.
  2. Kelley, J.M., Kraft-Todd, G., Schapira, L., Kossowsky, J. & Riess, H. (2014). The influence of the patient-clinician relationship on healthcare outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS ONE. 2014;9. pmid:24718585
  3. Curry, O.S., Rowland, L.A., Van Lissa, C.J., Zlotowitz, S., McAlaney, J. & Whitehouse, H. (2018) Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. J Exp Soc Psychol. 2018;76: 320–329
  4. Cregg, D. & Cheavens, J. (2023) Healing through helping: an experimental investigation of kindness, social activities, and reappraisal as well-being interventions, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 18:6, 924-941, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2022.2154695
  5. Kumar, A. & Epley, N. (2023). A little good goes an unexpectedly long way: Underestimating the positive impact of kindness on recipients. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 152(1), 236–252.

Dr. Kate McGraw is Chief, Psychological Health Center of Excellence. A former USAF missile officer, her work as a DOD clinical psychologist in uniform and as a civilian for DOD has furthered research, clinical practice, programs, and policy in the areas of women's mental health, ostracism, implementation science, sexual assault suicide prevention, and sleep.

Last Updated: April 11, 2024
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