The science behind kindness
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
You’re rushing between meetings, on to your 5th or 6th of the day. You’re thinking about what to make for dinner, who’s going to walk the dog and how you’re going to get your kids to dance or hockey on time. Sound familiar?
Then, out of nowhere, a stranger buys you a coffee. For no reason — just to be kind. And that one random act of kindness lifts your frazzled mood and changes your whole day.
We all know that kindness can be good for the soul, but did you know it’s also good for your brain — and your heart?
When you show someone kindness or receive it in some way, it can boost levels of neurotransmitters in your brain called serotonin and dopamine, which act as chemical messengers, helping to produce feelings of happiness and contentment.
These neurotransmitters cause the brain’s limbic system, which houses the pleasure and reward systems, to light up - releasing endorphins, also known as the ‘feel good’ hormone.
The brain releases another hormone, oxytocin, when we form social bonds, develop trusting relationships or are physically intimate. There are heart-healthy reasons to incorporate kindness into your everyday, too. Oxytocin releases nitric oxide, a chemical which helps to expand blood vessels and lower blood pressure.
And Oxytocin may help to limit the effects of aging by reducing inflammation and levels of free radicals (unstable atoms that can cause disease and speed up aging) in the body.
According to the Mayo Clinic, kindness has also been shown to improve mood and increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, as well as decrease cortisol, a hormone directly correlated with stress levels.
Still need more proof that kindness is scientifically proven to improve your mental and physical health?
A recent study by researchers from the University of Chicago showed that kindness can have “unexpectedly positive consequences,” and that people who perform random acts of kindness often “underestimate how much recipients value their behaviour.” Even a hug has positive physical & mental benefits. And it turns out that people who volunteer tend to live longer.
Another study from researchers at Ohio State University demonstrated that participating in acts of kindness can be as effective as social interaction or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for people living with elevated symptoms of depression or anxiety.
New research is showing kindness is becoming a ‘standard’ in today’s workplace, too. In a recent survey commissioned by kindness.org, 1365 employees from six major companies were interviewed about their on-the-job experiences and found a direct link between kindness at work and employee satisfaction, and that happiness and well-being are more important than money, for many of the respondents.
It’s important - and healthy - too, that as you’re performing random acts of kindness for others, you also show yourself some love. A study by the University of Exeter and Oxford University found that participating in self-compassion exercises calms the heart rate and lowers the risk of disease.
Best-selling author and social scientist Brené Brown, who has long been a champion of self-care and self-compassion, agrees: “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”
She adds: “Talk to yourself like you would someone you love.”
It's great advice. As human beings, we are quite literally wired to be kind to one another. So, let's embrace that philosophy and strive to better each other's lives, one kind act at a time.
* Have compassion - consider the ‘most generous interpretation’ of why someone may be acting a certain way before responding.
* Smile more - especially if you’re passing someone on the sidewalk. Make eye contact and acknowledge them in a positive way. It will have an impact whether you see it or not.
* Be kind to yourself - practice self-care whenever and however often you need it. Always prioritize health and balance in your life. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
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