The Science of Kindness: How It Makes Us Healthier

January 17, 2017 Carol No comments exist

The simplest act of kindness – holding a door for the person behind you, or inviting someone to go ahead of you in the grocery line. How does it make you feel? Do you experience an immediate lift to your spirits? Instinctively you already know what I am going to say! Performing acts of kindness makes us happier and healthier.

 

What sorts of kindness are we talking about here? Any form of altruism – unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others — including:

  • Acts of heroism are one form of altruism — as we saw on 9/11, when firemen rushed into the World Trade Center.
  • In everyday life, people choose to give up free time to volunteer — whether it’s serving at soup kitchens, taking elderly people to the grocery store, or helping a next-door neighbor.
  • “Random acts of kindness” —  spontaneous, out-of-the-ordinary ones – may be especially powerful happiness boosters.

The Science of Kindness: The Research

Kindness makes for better relationships.

This is one of the most obvious points. We all know that we like people who show us kindness. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people, so we feel more “bonded.” It’s something that is so strong in us that it’s actually a genetic thing. We are wired for kindness. [3]

Research reveals that doing good deeds, or kind acts, can make socially-anxious people feel better. For four weeks, the University of British Columbia researchers assigned people with high levels of anxiety to do kind acts for other people at least six times a week. The acts of kindness included things like holding the door open for someone, doing chores for other people, donating to charity, and buying lunch for a friend. The researchers found that doing nice things for people led to a significant increase in people’s positive moods. It also led to an increase in relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance in socially anxious individuals. [1]

 

Kindness makes us happier.

“People who engage in kind acts become happier over time,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. “When you are kind to others, you feel good as a person — more moral, optimistic, and positive,” she says. Lyubomirsky has studied happiness for over 20 years. Her research, presented at the recent annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans, found that performing other positive acts once a week led to the most happiness. [2]

Dr. David R. Hamilton explains the physiology: “On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, which we know as endogenous opioids. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high, often referred to as “Helper’s High.” [3]

Kindness gives us healthier hearts.

Acts of kindness create an emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and, therefore, oxytocin is known as a “cardioprotective” hormone. It protects the heart by lowering blood pressure. [3]

Kindness slows aging.

Remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (which we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and thus slows aging at its source. Incidentally, these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease, so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart.  [3]

Kindness reduces risk of disease.

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of North Carolina found that people whose happiness was based on doing things for others, rather than on merely accumulating things, had lower inflammatory markers (inflammation has been linked to a higher risk of developing diabetes, cancer and heart disease) and improved levels of antibodies, needed for fighting off disease. [5]

Kindness significantly  improves our lives.

Researcher Stephen Post of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine serves as president of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, which conducts and funds research on altruism, compassion, and service. His research shows that when we give of ourselves, especially if we start young, everything from life satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly improved. Mortality is delayed, depression is reduced and well-being and good fortune are increased. [4]

References:

[1] http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/emotional-health/doing-kind-acts-reduces-anxiety-study

[2] http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2013/01/24/acts-of-kindness-can-make-you-happier

[3] http://drdavidhamilton.com/ 

[4] http://blog.case.edu/case-news/2007/06/01/postbook

[5] http://blog.aarp.org/2013/10/22/random-acts-of-kindness-the-health-benefits/

The Extraordinary Power of Kindness

 

Amelia Earhart

“No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.”― Amelia Earhart

We have seen how kindness has the power to transform our lives – to improve just about every dimension of each of our lives. But the most powerful, most remarkable power of kindness is “the ripple effect,” its ability to spread easily and endlessly!

 

Explore Further

These resources may be of interest to you:

 

Your Kindness Story

Do you believe in the power of kindness? Have you experienced it in your own life?

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