The science behind why being kind feels so good
Can being kind boost your health? According to a growing body of research, being nice can in fact have a positive impact on our overall health and well-being.
Here are 7 ways being kind to others is actually good for us.
It helps us foster closer relationships
Being kind gives us a chance to show someone that they mean something to us. It doesn’t matter if it’s your partner, an acquaintance or your UBER driver: no matter how shallow or deep your relationship, being kind deepens it further. And research shows that having strong relationships and a solid support system may be the key to happiness.
Additionally, research shows that being kind to others activates our posterior superior temporal cortex, the part of the brain associated with empathy. By exercising our “understanding” muscle, we are better able to see the world from other people’s perspective and listen to friends and family with kindness and compassion.
Being kind is a natural anxiety antidote
Studies show that acts of kindness can ease social anxiety. In one study, college students who had scored high on a social anxiety assessment were separated into three groups. Researchers asked one group to engage in three acts of kindness a day, two days a week, for four weeks. They asked members of the second group to simply try to be more social with people, and members of the third group to keep a diary of their social interactions. By performing random acts of kindness, members of the first group experienced positive interactions, decreasing their fear of negative interactions and their social anxiety overall.
Being kind to someone in need also helps us put life into perspective. By helping us practice gratitude for all that we have, being kind to others who are struggling can help us see that life’s small adversities don’t matter so much.
Kindness leads to longevity
Research shows that social isolation leads to an increased risk of early mortality. The correlation is so strong that some researchers have compared isolation statistics with those associated with smoking, obesity and lack of physical activity. Conversely, when we make strong connections with others through random acts of kindness, we affirm our social relationships and increase our likelihood of survival by as much as 50 percent.
Research shows that complex levels of social integration, such as instances in which we offer significant help to a close friend in need, have the highest impact on our longevity. However, all acts of kindness have a positive impact on our long-term well-being and health.
We are happier when we are nicer
There is a Chinese saying that says:
“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. A day, go fishing. A year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”
For centuries, philosophers all over the world have said the same thing: happiness is best found in the joy of helping others.
Various studies have shown a direct connection between kindness, altruism and less depression. Quite simply, kindness makes us happy, and happiness makes us kind. In what experts believe to be a “kindness feedback loop” of sorts, the happier we feel about our past generosity, the more we are likely to give in the future. We are happier when we give to others than when we are when we give to ourselves.
It reduces stress
The way we interact with others is directly related to our own emotional health. Being kind seems to buffer the negative effects stress has on us.
Witnessing or participating in acts of kindness produces oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Oxytocin lowers our blood pressure and improves our overall heart health. It also increases our self-esteem and optimism.
Additionally, being kind acts like a medical antidepressant in that it stimulates the production of serotonin, the feel-good chemical that calms us down.
In one Emory University study, researchers studied compassion meditation participants. They placed the participants in stressful situations in the lab, along with a control group of people who had not had the compassion meditation training. The researchers found that the students who were practicing compassion meditation released significantly lower doses of cortisol, the stress hormone.
We may be wired to be kind
Our good nature is something that’s ingrained in us from an early age. Studies show that some of us are born with certain genes that give us specific receptors to oxytocin and vasopressin, two hormones that promote feelings of love. Other studies show that nurture, or how our parents raised us, makes us naturally inclined to be kind.
Either way, it’s possible that being kind feels good because, from an early age, we’ve known that it’s the right thing to do.
Being kind leads to success
In his best-selling book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, University of Pennsylvania Wharton professor Adam Grant explains how compassionate leaders can have a far greater advantage than self-absorbed ones. Research shows that people like and appreciate “givers” more. Kind people are also more likely to build extraordinary professional relationships, show people they are valued and breed trust.
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Is being kind the ultimate health hack?
Share your kindness story with us! Let us know what your favorite random acts of kindness are in the comments section below.