Imagine you notice that a friend of yours is struggling to carry two large bags, so you offer to take one off them. As you walk along together you barely notice the weight of the bag – something about it being there due to an act of kindness actually makes it feel lighter than if it were your own bag. If this sounds unlikely, let’s look at the evidence.
An innovative study from China started out by advertising for participants to take part in ‘Cognition Research’. As each participant arrived at the research building, they saw someone struggling to carry two cartons of drinks up a nearby staircase. In fact, this was a confederate – a woman working for the researchers. Having struggled for a bit, she then dropped one of the cartons, at which point she said, Hi, could you help me carry this carton upstairs? There was also a control condition where participants were told simply that the first part of the experiment involved carrying a carton of drinks up the stairs.
Later on, having completed some completely unrelated questionnaires (in order to hide the real aim of the experiment) each participant was asked to estimate the weight of the carton they had carried. And, yes, those people who had carried the carton out of kindness, to help someone else, estimated it as significantly lighter than the people who had been told to carry it.
If kindness can actually make physical things feel lighter, just imagine what it can do to your mood.