Is it possible that nations will one day look back upon the global coronavirus pandemic with fondness?
Despite the obvious misery that the virus inflicted—killing people on a large scale, increasing loneliness and stress, and dividing families—it also appears that people treated one another better during the crisis than before it, according to this year’s World Happiness Report.
The report, a sweeping annual survey, seeks to assess how happy people across the world are—and why. The report is written by a group of experts from several universities, using life evaluations from the Gallup World Poll, which surveys a representative sample of adults from every country.
The report’s discovery this year that deep adversity forced people to pull together may perhaps be unsurprising. But there’s more. In 2022, which, despite ongoing covid-19 cases, can be viewed as the first post-pandemic year, “benevolence” levels were still elevated—about a quarter higher than in pre-pandemic years. It seems the pandemic made us nicer—and we’re still being nicer to each other, even as its effects fade into memory.
Kindness makes everybody happier
Benevolence, as measured by the report’s authors, is made up of several traits and actions, such as the willingness to help others both financially and in other ways. Belief in the benevolence of others, and a willingness to act with kindness towards others, is part of what makes us happy, according to the report.
To measure benevolence, the authors designed surveys that asked people how much money they’d donated to charitable causes, how much of their time they volunteered, and how often they’d helped a stranger over the previous month. To get at the question of how much people believed in the goodness of others, they asked people if they believed their lost wallets would be returned—by a stranger, for example, or a neighbor or the police.
Most such measures leaped higher, globally, during the pandemic. “A striking feature of the benevolence data presented in [the] World Happiness Report 2022 was the sharp increase in the helping of strangers during 2020 and especially 2021, coupled with significant increases in 2021 in both volunteering and donations” compared to the three previous years, the authors wrote.
But was this just a temporary phenomenon? The results for 2022 show that although benevolent acts did become slightly less frequent than in the previous year, they remained “significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels” in all global regions. And the kindness had consequences. Another recent worldwide study found that the mental health of people was surprisingly resilient during the pandemic—suggesting, perhaps, that kindness helped others bear up in difficult times.
Perhaps, in learning to be kinder during covid-19, we picked up a habit that didn’t just fall away when lockdowns ended and masks disappeared. Overall, the report’s authors suggested, the increase in benevolence is likely to support higher happiness levels. And it has the potential to create a “virtuous circle,” making it more likely—hopefully—that we’ll keep being nice to each other in the future.