Kindness and well-being in adolescence

How does kindness impact an individual’s own sense of well-being? Does ‘being kind’ make one happier, and if so, how and why?

For adults, an emerging literature provides evidence that those who engage with giving, helping or caring experience higher levels of well-being, and that kindness-based interventions lead to more positive emotion and life satisfaction. However, these links have yet to be addressed within adolescent populations and little is known about how and why these links exist.

The main goal of this project, led by PhD researcher Jess Cotney, is to evaluate how and to what extent ‘being kind’ is associated with well-being in adolescents, and whether fostering kindness can serve to enhance well-being in this age group. The project combines qualitative focus groups with large-scale surveys and experimental studies to test the relationships between kindness and positive outcomes. These studies are designed to inform the development and evaluation of school-based kindness interventions designed to promote well-being in secondary school pupils.

Throughout the project, we are exploring the role of peer relationships, empathy, and value orientations to try to understand why kindness is connected with well-being. The results of our work are helping us to understand the way in which positive social behaviour improves the lives of young people. They also help us to design and evaluate a potential method for promoting well-being in teens with implications for the design of ‘social and emotional learning’ approaches in schools.

Kindness across the University of Sussex

We are also working in partnership with Kindness UK, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to fostering kindness, in order to set up a doctoral grant scheme that promotes and disseminates research from any academic discipline that illuminates kindness and its effects on people and communities.