The TikTok Trend Of 'Blessing Strangers' Might Actually Have Some Merit
While the act might seem self-serving, creating 'blessing strangers' content for social media might be promoting goodwill behind-the-scenes.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | September 4, 2023
Social media influencers are often criticized for their content, which can be perceived as shallow, self-centered or, in some cases, even harmful. But there is an well-established trend among certain influencers to create content that showcases their generosity and kindness, while also giving random people unexpected moments of joy and virality.
One example of this is the "Blessing Strangers" trend on TikTok, where content creators surprise unsuspecting strangers with gifts. Even high-profile, mainstream celebrities like Drake have embraced this format, as seen in his 2018 music video for "God's Plan," where he gave away nearly a million dollars to people in need in Miami.
While there are certainly ethical considerations with using people's reactions to kindness for online clout, these documented acts of kindness validate one thing that science has repeatedly pointed out: it may not always be obvious to us, but people are highly receptive to random acts of kindness.
For example, a recent study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science explored how people perceive the impact of their acts of kindness on others. The study involved 101 children aged 4 to 17 and 99 adults visiting a museum in Chicago. Each participant was given two pencils and encouraged to give one away to another visitor. Afterward, they were asked to predict how the recipient would perceive their act of kindness and how it made them, the giver, feel. The results showed that both children and adults tended to underestimate the positive impact of their small act of kindness, which can hold them back from engaging in prosocial behavior.
This highlights the importance of questioning the barriers to kindness that exist in our minds and being more aware of the potential impact of our kindness on others.
Here's how the viral trend of giving reveals two science-backed benefits of kindness for ourselves and others.
1. Spontaneity Is Underrated, Especially When It Comes To Being Kind
One of the benefits of kindness is that it can make us feel good about ourselves. When we do something nice for someone else, we activate the reward system in our brain, which releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine. These hormones can enhance our mood, lower our blood pressure and strengthen our immune system.
One 2020 meta-analysis published in Psychological Bulletin reviewed 201 independent studies and found that there was a link between prosocial behavior and well-being. The strength of this link depended on many factors, including the type of kindness, the definition of well-being and the giver's age, gender and other demographic factors.
Interestingly, the results of the analysis showed that between unplanned acts of kindness (like helping a blind stranger cross the road) and organized acts of kindness (like volunteering in a soup kitchen), informal helping had more well-being benefits. This is likely because informal helping is more casual and may more easily lead to forming social connections. Informal helping is also more varied and less likely to become stale or monotonous, which means we can do more of it while minimizing burnout and maximizing well-being.
At the end of the day, helping someone is not a zero-sum game, where one person's gain is another's loss. In reality, it is a win-win situation, where both the giver and the receiver benefit from the exchange.
2. Kindness Is Highly Contagious
Even one act of kindness can potentially spark a chain-reaction that spreads joy and positivity through the community.
One classic 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that cooperative behavior can spread through social networks by degrees of separation. The study used a series of experiments to show that when one person behaves generously, it inspires others to behave generously later, toward different people.
For example, if Alice is kind to Bob, Bob may be inspired to be kind to Carol, who may then be kind to Dave, and so on.
In this way, kindness can spread across social networks and communities, creating a ripple effect of positivity that persists over time, with people who have been exposed to kindness continuing to be more generous even weeks later.
Kindness is a skill that can be learned and practiced. By being kind to others, we can improve our own well-being and happiness, as well as inspire more kindness and cooperation in our communities. The social media trend of giving shows us how contagious kindness can be, and how much joy it can bring to ourselves and others. So the next time you see someone performing an act of kindness on social media, remember that you too have the power to spontaneously spread joy and positivity through your own actions.