We often don’t realize the importance of reaching out to the people in our lives. Many people feel lonely and isolated in our busy world and long to connect with others in their free time. Unfortunately, connecting with people usually becomes secondary to other pressing matters, such as careers and family life. We need to normalize compassion, kindness, and connecting with others.
However, American Psychological Association (APA) researchers found that others appreciate us reaching out more than we’d think, especially if it’s unexpected.
“People are fundamentally social beings and enjoy connecting with others,” said lead author Peggy Liu, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh. “There is much research showing that maintaining social connections is good for our mental and physical health. However, despite the importance and enjoyment of social connection, our research suggests that people significantly underestimate how much others will appreciate being reached out to.”
The research appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
For the study, the team performed several experiments with over 5,900 volunteers. They wanted to investigate how accurate people were at predicting how much others valued them reaching out. The researchers also wanted to examine which situations or scenarios made people the most appreciative.
In one experiment, researchers asked half the participants to recall the last time they emailed, called, or texted a friend “just because” or “just to catch up.” They specifically wanted to know about people reaching out to others after an extended period of no contact.
They asked the remainder of the participants to remember a situation where someone contacted them after a prolonged period. Next, depending on the circumstances, they asked volunteers to rate how appreciative, grateful, or happy they felt to reconnect. Participants rated their experience on a 7-point scale (1=not at all, 7=to a great extent).
What the Study About Reaching Out to Others Revealed
People who remembered reaching out to someone significantly underestimated how much they appreciated the compassion. However, those who recalled receiving a message or phone call reported being very pleased or grateful.
In other experiments, participants delivered a short message, or a note and a small present, to a friend they hadn’t contacted in a while. Like the prior experiments, participants who initiated contact had to rate the experience on a 7-point scale.
Specifically, researchers asked how much they thought the recipient would appreciate or feel pleased by the connection. After receiving their surprise, recipients also had to rate their appreciation and gratitude for the notes or gifts.
Researchers found those who initiated contact significantly undervalued how much recipients would appreciate them reaching out in all experiments. They also discovered that a specific scenario impacted the extent to which someone appreciated the communication.
“We found that people receiving the communication placed greater focus than those initiating the communication on the surprise element, and this heightened focus on surprise was associated with higher appreciation,” said Liu. “We also found that people underestimated others’ appreciation to a greater extent when the communication was more surprising, as opposed to part of a regular communication pattern, or the social ties between the two participants were weak.”
Never Underestimate the Value of Kindness and Compassion
Unfortunately, many people have grown distant from others in their lives, especially during the pandemic. For instance, people who used to work in an office together and now work remotely may have lost contact. This scenario provides a perfect opportunity to reconnect, primarily if you haven’t spoken in a while.
Of course, you might hesitate to initiate contact with someone after not talking for some time. You may feel nervous about how the person will respond or if they will even acknowledge your message. However, the findings suggest that these worries are largely unfounded. People generally appreciate when others try to reconnect, especially when it’s a surprise.
“I sometimes pause before reaching out to people from my pre-pandemic social circle for a variety of reasons. When that happens, I think about these research findings and remind myself that other people may also want to reach out to me and hesitate for the same reasons,” Liu said. “I then tell myself that I would appreciate it so much if they reached out to me and that there is no reason to think they would not similarly appreciate my reaching out to them.”
If you haven’t heard from a friend for a while, don’t think twice about sending them a message. It’s been a rough few years for most of us, and it never hurts to check in with people. It may mean a lot more to them than you’d think.
Other Ways to Show Compassion to Others
Reaching out to others isn’t the only way to show compassion and care for your fellow humans. If you want to extend your love to people outside your social circle, here are a few random acts of kindness ideas:
- Pay for someone’s food or drinks at a restaurant or drive-thru. The people behind you will likely pay it forward, creating a chain of kindness!
- Donate to your local food bank or homeless shelter. Compassion can go a long way, and the organization will feel grateful for whatever you offer.
- Leave an extra tip for your waiter or waitress. If you can, give $10-20 more than you normally would at your next meal. In these challenging times, your servers will feel even more appreciative!
- Provide water or food for animals in your neighborhood. We can’t forget our animal friends when reaching out to others. During ongoing droughts and habitat loss, animals desperately need our help.
- Give someone a free hug. You never know what people go through in their minds. So, open your heart and offer a big hug to the next person you see. They might need it more than you’d imagine.
Final Thoughts on the Power of Reaching Out and Showing Compassion and Kindness
We often don’t prioritize reaching out to the people around us, whether they’re friends, family, or colleagues. However, a study by the APA shows that an unexpected message can mean so much to others. They found that the element of surprise played a significant role in how appreciative people felt about the connection. So, don’t hesitate to shoot your old friend a message – after all, you never know what they might be going through.