Kindness is not just an admirable character trait. It’s good for your health.
During book research on the psychology of kindness over the past few months, I have come across a growing body of evidence detailing the measurable physiological benefits that can be gained with a daily dose of the good stuff.
Giving, receiving and even just witnessing kindness can have hugely positive effects on our mental and physical health. Think on that last one for just a moment more – just watching someone be kind can make YOU happier and healthier. That’s pretty amazing.
I’ve always been deeply appreciative of kindness on a social and spiritual level, but I am now completely in awe of the physiological and psychological benefits of a good deed. I have also been delighted to discover some incredible kindness-spreading, health-giving initiatives creating virtuous circles around the world.
So it is in a spirit of kindness that I provide you, dear readers, with a very brief summary of the inner workings of this wonderful act and why its effect can bring us crazy happy contagious pure joy (that being the proper scientific term, of course).
Why kindness feels SO good
It’s Chemical. Both giving and receiving kindness increases the production of several life-enhancing chemicals. These include:
Serotonin: AKA “the happy hormone”. Serotonin makes you feel happier, relieves anxiety and even has some healing properties.
Oxytocin: AKA “the love hormone”. Oxytocin increases with kindness, particularly when we witness a kind act. A reason to keep your eyes off your phone and on your fellow humans when passing idle moments in your day. You never know when kindness will strike. Oxytocin has also been shown to increase our self-esteem and optimism, which can be a welcome boost in social situations.
Cortisol: AKA “the stress hormone”. Want to live life with a Hakuna Matata or “no worries” mantra? Perpetually kind people have been shown to have 23% less cortisol than folks who do not regularly perform kind acts.
Very kind people also age slower than average. True story. Emotional warmth reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system thereby slowing ageing at the source.
The Knock On Effect
Random good-deed-doing has a very cool knock on effect that can improve the overall well-being or mood of an entire community. The chemical effects of kindness are experienced in the brain of everyone who witnessed the act, improving their mood, dropping their anxiety levels and making them significantly more likely to “pay it forward.” So when you stop to help the Mum at the supermarket checkout who’s toddler is having a tantrum and the rest of the folks in line see you do it, you’re delivering a kindness high to bystanders and helping to create a virtuous circle of kindness that has the power to improve the day of dozens of people.
This video provides an awesome summary of the science of kindness. The take away message? Even one kind act improves your health and happiness and can send ripples far and wide.
So stand aside long distance running, clean eating, quitting sugar and giving up grains…who’s with me in making random acts of kindness their health kick of choice?
Here’s to sprinkling good deeds around like confetti and living life high on kindness.
P.S. Keep an eye out for my upcoming post on an inspirational global kindness initiative that has captured my heart so completely that I am not only starting a local chapter, but am reworking one of my manuscripts to include the practice and introduce it to children.