Small Acts of Kindness and Joy NPR

Nov 19, 2023
How to increase your sense of well-being

To feel better, commit to daily, small acts of joy

If I were to make a memory highlight reel of the times I felt good in the past year, I would include things like getting positive feedback on an article that meant a lot to me or celebrating my birthday with friends. I’d also include the night I helped a woman out of an uncomfortable conversation with a stranger and the time I helped an acquaintance get through a hypoglycemic episode. After those unexpected opportunities to help someone out, I felt pretty great. 

New research suggests that committing small acts of kindness, joy, or reflection can significantly increase a person’s sense of well-being, as NPR’s Allison Aubrey reports. Over 70,000 participants in more than 200 countries signed up for the BIG JOY Project, an ongoing collaboration between UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center and other institutions. 

It’s a citizen-science project, and anyone can participate. If you join, you’ll take an online survey to answer questions about your emotions, stress, and your social tendencies. Then, every day for a week, you agree to try small, happiness-boosting activities, what the researchers have dubbed "micro-acts" of joy. 

The micro-acts researchers recommend have been linked to emotional well-being in prior published studies. Examples include making a gratitude list or journal, visiting a sick neighbor, or doing a nice gesture for a friend – or a stranger. Some micro-acts involve celebrating another person's joy, engaging in self-reflection, meditation, or taking the time to “dwell in awe.” 

Participants track their feelings daily and take another survey at the end of the week. A preliminary analysis published this week shows that participants experienced about a 25% increase in emotional well-being over that week. Researcher Elissa Epel points out that planning such acts can help us feel like we have more of a sense of agency over our emotions in uncertain times.