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Stories of Kindness Ease Bad News

Kathryn Buchanan was driving to work when she heard horrific news on the radio: Twenty-two people were killed in a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. Tears immediately streamed down her face and Buchanan later said, “That was really heartbreaking.”

Amid the deluge of devastating headlines about the event in May 2017, Buchanan noticed that “there was some coverage around all of the kindness that followed in the aftermath.” It gave her some sense of relief. For instance, people offered shelter, food, and rides to total strangers. Locals lined the streets to donate blood after the deadly attack. Cabdrivers handed out food and offered free rides.

Buchanan is a psychology professor at the University of Essex. She said, “I became very emotional and grateful that there was still goodness out there against the backdrop of horror.” Reading stories of kindness instilled a sense of hope in her that had been lost after hearing about the attack.

She began to contemplate whether being exposed to heartwarming content could counteract the known negative impacts of consuming harrowing news stories. Common symptoms include heightened stress, hopelessness, anger, anxiety, and depression. So, she started a years-long study in 2017, which was published in May of 2023.

Repeatedly throughout the research, Buchanan saw that uplifting news can provide an emotional buffer against distressing news. Buchanan also found that “there’s something special about kindness in particular.” She noted that while amusing stories diminished the effects of upsetting news, stories about acts of kindness were even more powerful.

Buchanan said, that the solution is not to avoid negative news, because “actually ignoring news all together can leave you feeling disconnected from the world you’re living in …. Following news stories that feature others’ kindness has a real set of emotional and cognitive benefits for people. It serves as a kind of reset button that allows us to have this faith in humanity.”

Possible Preaching Angle:

In a world focused on the latest disaster, despair, and the universal feeling that our nation is headed in the wrong direction, imagine the positive effects of telling people of the kindness, goodness, grace, and love of God for them. Thanksgiving would be an excellent opportunity for this kind of witness to people in despair.

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