Imagine you’re part of an experiment. There are two groups. Members of the first group get $10 to spend however they wish. Members of the second group also get $10, but they must use it to help others. Which group would you rather be part of? Which would make you happier?
Researchers at Kindlab analyze the results of studies like this. Kindlab is a division of the nonprofit group Kindness.org. The Kindlab team is interested in the effect that helping others has on the person doing the helping.
Kindlab’s goal is to use scientific data to spread good deeds around the world. Oliver Curry is a research director at Kindlab. “The more we understand why people are kind, the better we’ll be able to . . . make the world a kinder place,” Curry told TIME for Kids.
In 2018, Kindlab researchers published a report called “Happy to Help?” They analyzed 27 experiments by other researchers comparing how people felt when they helped others with how they felt when they didn’t. “What we found when we aggregated the results is that helping does make you happy,” Curry says.
Anyone can contribute to the work Kindlab is doing by becoming a volunteer scientist. Volunteers gather data for research projects. Kindlab has more than 400 volunteer scientists in 45 countries. Jaclyn Lindsey is Kindness.org’s chief executive and cofounder. “We’re committed to putting out content and programs that are credible ,” she says. “Being rooted in data helps ensure we can do that.”
Volunteer scientists helped Kindlab and Harvard University on a big project. This project evaluated the costs—in terms of money, time, and effort—of a specific kind act. Then it looked at how beneficial the act would be to others. Volunteers filled out surveys to rate both the cost and benefits of good deeds. Researchers then analyzed the data to determine which deeds were most cost-effective (see “Good Deeds”).
According to Curry, Kindlab will use the information to create the first database of recommended acts of kindness. It will help people make informed choices about the kind acts they perform.
Kindness.org is also working to spread empathy in classrooms. This year, the group launched a curriculum called Learn Kind in 741 classrooms worldwide. It encourages students to take a scientific approach to kindness. “We’re giving students a few ideas of kind acts to try and asking them to report back on the experience,” Curry says.
Nine-year-old Kushagra Kumar, from Houston, Texas, has enjoyed being part of Learn Kind. For one activity, he was asked to find out whether quarantine would limit kindness. But for him, quarantine actually presented more opportunities for helping others. “I sent video messages to my grandma telling her that I love her,” Kushagra says. How did he feel after the call? “Happy!”
In May, Kindness.org published a report listing the most cost-effective acts of kindness during a pandemic. These actions can be taken while social-distancing or in quarantine.
Volunteer scientists helped the organization put the report together. They rated how much effort goes into a specific act and how beneficial the act is. The list shown here features the top-five easiest and most effective acts of kindness, according to Kindness.org.
Say thank you to someone who made your meal possible.
Cover your mouth when you cough.
Be on time for video calls.
Tell the people you love how you feel about them.
Video call your parents or grandparents.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly noted that the Learn Kind curriculum is in more than 450 schools worldwide. It is in 741 classrooms worldwide.