The Kindness Connection
We all experience days of sorrow, and, if you’re like me, maybe even periods of feeling down-right depressed. These periods can impact our marriages and our families. What can you do about those times when you’re feeling down? A study conducted at Ohio State University and entitled Healing through helping: an experimental investigation of kindness, social activities, and reappraisal as well-being interventions (read review here) offers an amazing solution. This study divided 122 people into three groups.
- One group planned social activities for two days a week and participated in those activities.
- A second group kept records of their thoughts for at least two days a week, identifying negative thought patterns and revising them in a way that could reduce anxiety and depression.
- A third group performed three acts of kindness two days each week, three on each day. These acts of kindness could be “big or small acts that benefit others or make others happy, typically at some cost to you in terms of time or resources.”
Participants chosen exhibited moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress at the start of the study. After engaging in their assigned activities for five weeks, they were evaluated again. Then, after an additional five weeks (that’s 10 weeks after the start of the study), the participants were evaluated to see if the interventions remained effective.
All the participants showed greater life satisfaction and fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety after 10 weeks. Although all the interventions led to improvement, engaging in acts of kindness led to even greater life satisfaction and even fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than did changing one’s thoughts. And, most importantly, engaging in acts of kindness resulted in greater social connection than either of the other two groups. People engaging in acts of kindness felt more socially connected than did those in the other two groups and social connection is crucial for our long-term well-being.
What does this have to do with marriage? Well, here’s the thing: marriage will flourish when we have a deep connection. Depression and anxiety can weaken that connection…as can busyness or distraction. You can change how you think and make your spouse and marriage a greater priority…and that will help. You can also plan some outings with your spouse, things like dates and family outings. That will also help. But if you really want to grow more deeply connected with your spouse, practice acts of kindness on a regular basis. After all, acts of kindness led to even greater life satisfaction and even fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than did simply changing one’s thoughts. AND it led to greater social connection. Who doesn’t want a deeper connection with their spouse? So, engage in acts of kindness. In the study, they did this only two days a week. I suggest you find a way to show kindness to your spouse every day. Make it a daily habit. It’s not that hard. Show politeness. Help around the house. Do them a favor. Give them a drink. (If you get stuck for ideas, read 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage.) Focus on being kind in your actions and words. You will experience a growing sense of connection you will both enjoy.