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Even Small Kindnesses Have Big Impact, New Research Finds

Amid COVID-19 challenges, Americans are supporting each other more often this year

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Did you help someone this year? According to new research, you probably did. And even if your gesture was small, it likely made a powerful difference.

In a new survey, 90 percent of people reported taking action to support others this year, according to data released by, a nonprofit organization that promotes resiliency founded by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

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As part of the organization's annual #OptionBThere for the holidays initiative, the nonprofit, in partnership with Survey Monkey, asked 2,050 adults about their experiences in 2020. The survey found that adults of all ages helped each other in unprecedented ways this year.

  • 90 percent of those surveyed said they supported others by doing things like texting, calling, sending a care package, helping with errands or chores, or simply acknowledging someone's struggles and validating their feelings.
  • 62 percent said they gave more of this type of support to others than they had in previous years.
  • 80 percent said they received support from someone this year—and many said the kindness came from people they hadn't expected.

While people may assume that only big gestures get noticed, the survey showed that even small acts of kindness were meaningful. “We often think that we need to show up in big ways, and that prevents us sometimes from taking action,” says Rachel Thomas, CEO of and its sister nonprofit,, both founded by Sandberg. The survey also found:

  • 39 percent said the most meaningful thing someone could do is just reach out to say “I'm thinking of you."
  • 30 percent said it's especially meaningful when someone texts or calls regularly.
  • 24 percent said that just having someone acknowledge their struggles or validate their feelings is really helpful.

Helping others to help yourself

Small acts of kindness have a lot of power, says Thomas, adding that members of's online community, which offers peer-to-peer support for those facing grief and other hardships, have seen that value firsthand. “Even if your words aren't perfect or your gestures are small and unexpected, they might be exactly what someone needs,” she says.

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The survey also found that this year was difficult for many people and those acts of kindness were essential:

Supporting others can lift your own spirits, Thomas says. “A really powerful way to build your own resilience, and your own sense of well-being, is to actually show up for others,” Thomas says. Seventy percent of those surveyed said they felt better able to handle new challenges in the future because of the hardships they faced this year.

5 ways you can support others (and yourself) this holiday season:

1. Instead of asking if you can “do anything,” just do something. If someone you love is struggling, don't wait for them to tell you how you can help. A simple gesture, like mailing a card, leaving groceries on the person's porch or unexpectedly shoveling their driveway can change someone's day. You're not requiring them to ask for any particular kind of help, so you're not putting any burden on them.

2. Change up your holiday greeting. For many people, “Happy holidays!” will ring hollow this year. It can be more compassionate (and real) to say something that acknowledges the holiday and this year's challenges. The team suggests trying something like “I'm thinking of you this holiday season” or “How are you feeling with the holidays coming up?” Thomas's favorite phrase lately is this: “I hope you find some moments of joy this holiday season."

3. Help people by taking care of their loved ones. This might mean dropping off a box of books and toys for a friend's kids or grandkids, or helping them assemble a care package for someone they've been worried about. These acts can go a long way toward showing a friend or family member that you're on their team.

4. Make plans for next year. Positive anticipation is great for lifting spirits. Talk with your loved one about something you're excited to do together in 2021, and put a date on your calendars even if it's tentative. Having something to look forward to will make it easier to get through hard moments during the holidays this year.

5. Don't try to pour from an empty cup. We have to take care of ourselves in order to show up for others. So make time for activities you enjoy and try writing in a journal as a way to process your own feelings about the holidays this year.

And here's another bit of good news: With so many of us facing the same challenges as our neighbors, “people are sharing what's going on with each other in ways they haven't before,” Thomas says. That “creates a sense of shared understanding and shared empathy."

She hopes the empathy and kindness noted in the survey results will keep on growing. “The more you show up, and the more you take action, the more comfortable you can be doing it,” Thomas says. “It really sets off a virtuous cycle. And of course, it feels good.”

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