New research published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being provides evidence that completing brief gratitude or kindness assignments can boost positive emotions during a pandemic.
According to the positive activity model of happiness, expressing gratitude or practicing kindness promotes well-being because it helps to satisfy basic psychological needs such as autonomy, connectedness, and competence. Researchers were interested in whether this model could be used in a 3-week online intervention to increase well-being in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
“I am interested in exploring the effects of online gratitude and kindness interventions on mental health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic given that my primary research expertise revolves around positive psychology, positive education, and inclusive education,” said study author Jesus Alfonso D. Datu, an assistant professor at The Education University of Hong Kong and head of the Science of Happiness and Positive Education (SHAPE) Lab.
In the study, 107 Filipino undergraduate students were randomly assigned to complete online tasks that involved writing about their accomplishments, gratitude, or acts of kindness.
Each week, those in the accomplishments condition — which was used as a control group — listed five academic or work-related accomplishments.
Those in the gratitude condition were first asked to “List five specific things, events, or people that you are grateful for”; the next week they were asked to “Reflect on the person that you are most grateful for since the start of the COVID-19 health crisis. Write a thank you letter which describes how and why you are thankful to him/her”; and the third week they were asked to “Select your most favorite quotation about gratitude. Describe a recent experience or event demonstrating this quote’s relevance to your life.”
Those in the kindness condition were first asked to “List five acts of kindness that you did for your family, friends, or strangers this week”; the next week they were asked to “Recall and narrate a specific kind act that you performed in the past few days to help a family, friend, or stranger cope with financial or non-financial (e.g., social and emotional) challenges associated with COVID-19. Describe this person’s reaction to your behavior”; and the third week they were asked to “Select your favorite quotation about kindness. Describe a recent experience or event demonstrating this quote’s relevance to your life.”
The participants also completed assessments of perceived satisfaction with life, positive and negative emotions, and COVID-related anxiety at the beginning and end of the study.
The researchers found that participants in gratitude and kindness conditions tended to experience more positive emotions than those assigned to the control condition. The findings indicate that “engaging in activities to promote gratitude and kindness can boost positive emotions during the pandemic outbreak,” Datu told PsyPost.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first investigation of its kind to show how technologically driven gratitude and kindness interventions can yield COVID-19 emotional benefits, with effect sizes that are comparable with prior research on online positive psychological interventions,” the researchers wrote in their study.
But the intervention appeared to have no significant impact on life satisfaction, negative emotions, and COVID-19 anxiety.
“Given that this study was based on data from an online pilot experiment, more studies are needed to rigorously evaluate the impacts of virtual gratitude and kindness interventions on well-being during the pandemic outbreak,” Datu said. “Future research also needs to pinpoint precise psychological processes that underscore the benefits of online positive psychological activities on mental health functioning.”
The study, “The effects of gratitude and kindness on life satisfaction, positive emotions, negative emotions, and COVID-19 anxiety: An online pilot experimental study“, was authored by Jesus Alfonso D. Datu, Jana Patricia M. Valdez, Dennis M. McInerney, and Ryan Francis Cayubit.