Lysn psychologist Tahnee Clark explores how showing a little kindness can benefit your health, ahead of World Kindness day.
We all know that being kind can have positive benefits on others and if you’ve been on the receiving end of such kindness, you’ll know how good it can make you feel. A simple hello from a stranger, a smile from a neighbour, or generosity from a colleague can genuinely make your day. And there is science to back it.
When we take the time to acknowledge others, we activate our mirror neurons and activate a cascade of natural pleasure chemicals such as oxytocin and dopamine. Oxytocin is released when we bond with others and dopamine gives us a sense of reward. The emotional and physiological enjoyment we get from these connections makes us healthier and happier.
However, have you thought about how being kind might be beneficial to you (not just to the person on the receiving end)? It turns out that being kind actually benefits yourself – maybe even more than it does the other person! Often kindness can be a simple act, but it can have countless benefits.
In fact, so great is kindness for other people and ourselves, that there are now organisations around the world whose entire mission is to spread kindness. KindnessFactory.com are on a mission to have one million acts of kindness logged globally by 2020. With World Kindness Day happening on the 13th November, here’s some ways that kindness can benefit you…
Kindness can make you happier
There have been various studies that show how kindness can make you happier. One particular study that seemed to prove this theory measured how happy people were in the morning and then gave them $5 or $20 with the option to either spend it on themselves or on others before 5pm that same day. The results showed that those who had spent the money on other people were happier than those who used the money on themselves.
Kindness can make you feel better about yourself
Research has shown that people who perform kind acts for others tend to get higher levels of psychological flourishing compared to those who acted kindly towards themselves. Psychological flourishing means living an optimal range of human functioning; in a state of positive emotions, positive psychological functioning and positive social functioning.
Acts of kindness have been shown to make the giver feel better about themselves and lead to higher levels of positive emotions.
Whilst getting something back in return shouldn’t be the reason that you be kind, it can sometimes be nice to feel the love back. Your kindness can spark some kind behaviour in the other person or even prompt them to pay it forward to someone else. Often people want to help others but don’t know how they can be of value to another person. A simple act of kindness is often all someone needs.
The beauty is, receiving kindness can not only make both people feel good, but it can increase the receiver’s confidence. Receiving kindness can help a person feel worthy and seen. Which in turn, can increase their confidence to express kindness to others. Kindness is contagious!
Kindness can put a smile on your dial (literally)
Smiling at someone can actually be contagious. It takes more facial muscles to frown (hello wrinkles); smiling is the way to go! Neuroscience suggests that most people naturally want to mimic someone else’s emotions – our mirror neurons activate the same area of the brain as if we experienced the emotion ourselves.
Kindness can help you make connections
Being kind, no matter how small the act, can open up a lot of possibilities to develop social connections with people. Kindness can activate the release of oxytocin in our bodies which allow for bonds between people to be strengthened.
Oxytocin also increases generosity, social confidence and in-group treatment and cohesion and reduces anxiety. Humans are born to connect and we need social connections for survival. So, if you’re feeling alone or like you need some human interaction, try smiling at a stranger or shouting someone a coffee!
Kindness can reduce blood pressure
Oxytocin which is released when being kind causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide dilates the blood vessels, thus reducing blood pressure in a person.Oxytocin is often referred to as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart by lowering blood pressure.
Kindness can reduce physical pain
Acts of kindness have also been shown to release feel-good neurochemicals in our bodies like dopamine, serotonin and endogenous opioids. With these flooding our bodies, kindness can literally reduce fear and physical pain, improve mood, increase pleasure.
Kindness can increase energy
Feeling sluggish? Try an act of kindness. Studies have shown that people feel stronger and more energetic after helping others. These same studies also showed results of people feeling less depressed with increased feelings of self-worth as well as increase mental flexibility and self-regulation.
These neurochemicals can also increase motivation and anticipation and improve creativity, focus and attention. What a wonderful world it would be if we were all a bit kinder to ourselves and others!