Key Point: Be generous because the action makes you feel good, not because it will create a positive chain reaction of goodwill. But is “paying it forward” the right thing to do? Research published here by the American Psychological Association notes that “paying it forward,” a popular expression for extending generosity to others after someone has been generous to you, may not always work. Unfortunately it is more common to repay greed with greed. In five experiments involving money or work, participants who received an act of generosity didn’t pay generosity forward any more than those who had been treated equally. But participants who had been the victims of greed were more likely to be greedy to a future recipient, creating a negative chain reaction.
The published article states, “We all like to think that being generous will influence others to treat someone nicely, but it doesn’t automatically create a chain of goodwill. The researchers conclude that to create chains of positive behavior, people should focus less on performing random acts of generosity and more on treating others equally — while refraining from random acts of greed.”
On the other hand, researchers at UC San Diego and Harvard University published the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which provides laboratory evidence that those who benefit from kindness tend to find it contagious, and “pay it forward” by helping others.
Recently our daughter took our 5-year-old grandson on an extended “pay it forward” journey. It involved many random acts of kindness and an opportunity to focus on positive, caring behavior without expecting reciprocity. My daughter describes how our grandson literally jumped and skipped with joy through the process. Her heart did the same thing. The researchers in the first study above would likely discourage this because their data suggests that no big “pay it forward” chain would occur. The other study reinforces that we need to further examine the outcomes of “pay it forward” activity.
Even if the APA research is more “true,” it is NOT the reason to discourage random acts of kindness. Frankly, we need a lot more of it. We shouldn’t do it because it’ll lead to something from someone else in return, we should be generous because it is a great way to treat others and good for our own hearts and souls. Giving because you expect anything in return is not the true spirit of generosity.
- Every season is a good season to offer random acts of kindness. But if you want to create a sense of contribution and personal value this holiday season, just go out and give without expecting anything in return. There is a 100 percent guarantee of generating a sense of personal well-being. Just give!
- Never pass greed forward. The most important reminder from the APA study is we can get sucked into feeling compelled or justified in passing bad behavior forward. “I got screwed, so I am going to screw over the next guy…” Wow… Stopping “screwing you forward” would perhaps be as meaningful as “paying it forward.” We can consciously stop the negative behavior cycle.
- Just give and become aware of how you feel about it. Do your own personal research. My guess is that random and/or non-random acts of generosity will put a little “five-year-old” skip of joy in your heart. That’s the reward you should be looking for.
Acts of kindness in The Triangle,