There's no question helping other people can make us feel good.
But according to new research from Ohio State University, performing good deeds may be particularly beneficial to those suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety.
"Social connection is one of the ingredients of life most strongly associated with well-being. Performing acts of kindness seems to be one of the best ways to promote those connections," said study co-author David Cregg, while psychology professor Jennifer Cheavens added: "We often think that people with depression have enough to deal with, so we don't want to burden them by asking them to help others. But these results run counter to that. Doing nice things for people and focusing on the needs of others may actually help people with depression and anxiety feel better about themselves."
For the study, the team analysed over 120 people who had moderate to severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.
Two groups were assigned to techniques often used in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), while the third group was instructed to perform three acts of kindness a day for two days out of the week.
These included baking cookies for friends, offering to drive someone, and leaving notes for roommates.
After 10 weeks, the researchers found that participants in all three groups showed an increase in life satisfaction and a reduction of depression and anxiety symptoms.
"These results are encouraging because they suggest that all three study interventions are effective at reducing distress and improving satisfaction," Cregg added. "But acts of kindness still showed an advantage over both social activities and cognitive reappraisal by making people feel more connected to other people, which is an important part of wellbeing."
Full study results have been published in The Journal of Positive Psychology.