The study looked at kids aged nine to 11 from 19 schools in Vancouver, they were split into two groups. The control group was asked to remember three places they visited each week.  The others were instructed for four weeks, three times a week to perform an act of kindness for someone.

Co-writer of the study, Kimberly Schonert Reichl says the kindness group was happier overall because they were more accepted by their peer groups. “Both groups did increase in their happiness or their positive emotions but it was only the group that were instructed to do the act of kindness where they became better liked by their classmates.”

Reichl says happy kids are also more helpful at home and in the classroom, have better relationships, and get better grades in school.

“We gave them some examples but it was really up to them to decide what they were going to do and they were really overall very small things like sharing a lunch with a friend, giving their mom a hug, helping someone with their homework or opening a door.”

She says bullying also tends to increase in grade four and five and by simply asking students to think about how they can act kindly to those around them, teachers can create a sense of connectedness in the classroom and reduce the likelihood of bullying.

“We know that bullying is a group phenomenon, it’s not just an individual child, kids can witness bullying and be bystanders and either intentionally or unintentionally be supporting the bullying from happening, yet here you are in the classroom where you’re doing acts of kindness for each other and increasing how much kids like each other. Helping others helps you and makes you feel better about yourself, increasing that self esteem I would assume would also reduce bullying.”

She says this is not just for teachers, but parents as well; it’s a conversation that can happen in the home.

“Think about ways that you can actually help kids develop a better sense of themselves by doing acts of kindness and doing them intentionally.”

The research was conducted in partnership with the University of California, Riverside.