The Hidden Health Benefits of Being Kind
Genuine kindness matters. However, airplane rules apply here! Help yourself before helping others. Being kind to yourself is just as important as being kind to others, if not more important. That little voice inside your head needs to be your best friend. If it’s not, and you are beating yourself up on a daily basis, it’s quite difficult to be kind to those around you. We should all be treated with kindness and compassion – this includes yourself.
Kindness has a very long history!
In Book II of “Rhetoric“, Aristotle defines kindness as “helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped”. He believed that an essential component for living a good life was helping others (he also includes good food/nutrition, physical exercise and well-being, intellectual stimulation and love and friendship in this equation). Thomas Aquinas believed that humans have the natural inclination to do the right thing and Mark Twain considered “kindness [as a] language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
Many experiments have been done to show the detrimental effect that the lack of love and compassion can have on animals and humans. Every time we turn on the TV to watch the news we are inundated with sad stories of loss and devastation. Our collective mental health is taking a beating with all the negativity and anxiousness that surrounds our everyday life.
Could kindness be the answer?
Not just for ourselves, but for the people around us. It is said that for every act of kindness perpetrated, three acts of kindness will follow. There is a plethora of studies on the contagiousness of kindness. People who witness acts of kindness experience a warm feeling, called elevation, which in turn spurs them to behave kindly towards others! So, as individuals we can directly impact on the world around us.
Kindness can be as simple as letting someone out in a queue of traffic. Why not try a little experiment yourself the next time you are out and about. If someone catches your eye, try smiling. Smiling is quite infectious and, chances are, they will smile back at you. These small reassurances, that I like to call “strokes and fuzzies,” have a simple and effective way of making our world and all those around us happier. We are social beings and being kind to others, quite simply put, makes us feel better about ourselves. The impact being kind can have on our own emotional well-being is phenomenal.
The following are ways in which kindness can boost our physiological and psychological health:
When we do something nice for someone else both our hearts and our brains are affected. Committing acts of kindness lowers blood pressure. Acts of kindness create emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels, reduces blood pressure and, ultimately, protects the heart. Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone” because it helps to improve our overall heart-health. Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism, which is extra helpful when we’re anxious or shy in a social situation.
Being kind to others releases endorphins (the feel good hormones) in our brains. Doing nice things for others boosts your serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being. So basically committing acts of kindness makes your brain happy. And who doesn’t want a happy brain?
We may all suffer with bouts of anxiety from time to time. It is quite a common experience. While there are a myriad of ways to reduce our anxiousness, being kind to others is one of the easiest and cheapest methods. As pointed out in a study on happiness from the University of British Columbia (UBC), “social anxiety is associated with low positive affect (PA), a factor that can significantly affect psychological well-being and adaptive functioning.” Positive affect refers to an individual’s experience of positive moods such as joy, interest, and alertness. UBC researchers found that participants who engaged in kind acts displayed significant increases in PA that were sustained over the four weeks of the study.
According to Health.com, having a strong network of friends and family around you will lower your risk of heart disease! We naturally gravitate towards kind, caring and compassionate people so strengthen the relationships you already have or make some new friends through your acts of kindness.
Lower Stress Levels
We are always looking for ways to reduce our stress. Look no further than the mirror. Helping others offers you the opportunity to take a break from your busy life. It can force you to slow down and focus on someone other than yourself for a little while. Taking a break from the stresses in your life can often help you to gain a bit of perspective and enable you to better handle stressful situations.
With National Random Acts of Kindness Day upon us, we kindly ask you to take a moment to hold the door open at a shop for the person coming in behind you, let a family member or friend know how much you love them, let somebody know you appreciate their help, give an authentic compliment, say please, thank you, and sorry and really mean it or, if you have time, volunteer your time for a charity. Your heart, your brain and everyone around you will certainly benefit!
In the words of Maya Angelou, “people will forget what you did, they will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”