The health benefits of kindness
In our “what’s in it for me” society, kindness is a rarity. As most of us view the costs (in terms of time, efforts, and so on) of helping someone else to outweigh the benefits, we simply don’t bother. But research suggests altruism may not be completely selfless after all. In fact, the helper may benefit more than the person being helped.
Studies show that helping others contributes to the maintenance of good health and it can diminish the effect of diseases and disorders. According to The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, some of these benefits include:
- A rush of euphoria, followed by a longer period of calm, after performing a kind act is often referred to as a “helper’s high”, involving physical sensations and the release of the body’s natural painkillers, the endorphins. This initial rush is then followed by a longer-lasting period of improved emotional wellbeing.
- Stress-related health problems improve after performing kind acts. Helping reverses feelings of depression, supplies social contact, and decreases feelings of hostility and isolation that can cause stress, overeating, ulcers, etc. A drop in stress may, for some people, decrease the constriction within the lungs that leads to asthma attacks.
- Helping can enhance our feelings of joyfulness, emotional resilience, and vigour, and can reduce the unhealthy sense of isolation.
- A decrease in both the intensity and the awareness of physical pain can occur.
- The incidence of attitudes, such as chronic hostility, that negatively arouse and damage the body is reduced.
- The health benefits and sense of well-being return for hours or even days whenever the helping act is remembered.
- An increased sense of self-worth, greater happiness, and optimism, as well as a decrease in feelings of helplessness and depression, is achieved.
- Once we establish an “affiliative connection” with someone – a relationship of friendship, love, or some sort of positive bonding – we feel emotions that can strengthen the immune system.
- Adopting an altruistic lifestyle is a critical component of mental health.
- The practice of caring for strangers translates to immense immune and healing benefits.
- Regular club attendance, volunteering, entertaining, or faith group attendance is the happiness equivalent of getting a degree or more than doubling your income.
It’s not necessary to carry out monumental acts of kindness to experience these benefits either. In fact it has been found that brief, small, regular acts of kindness lead to the highest levels of wellbeing. It has also been found that such small, pleasurable experiences can more than offset any negative health effects brought about by life’s stressful events, regardless of their magnitude.
But what exactly are “brief, small, regular acts of kindness” and how do you incorporate them into your already-crammed schedule?
It’s not difficult to incorporate kindness into your everyday life. You don’t even really have to put time aside to do so. Simply do it while you’re doing something else. Of course, you may start small and find you enjoy it so much that you clear some time in your schedule to do something bigger. But for now, here are a few ideas that you can start doing today:
- Smile and say “hello” to someone you don’t know. This could be someone at work, the grocery store, or another traffic-frustrated commuter.
- Let someone jump the queue. If you’re standing in line at the bank, the canteen, or the shop and you notice someone who seems to be in a hurry, why not let him or her jump the queue?
- Let someone merge traffic. You know the feeling when you’re stuck in the wrong lane and no one will give you a gap. Be the gap giver.
- Treat a stranger. Leave enough money in the vending machine for the next person to get a free treat.
- Share the load. Help someone who is struggling with heavy bags or lots to carry.
- Treat someone to fresh fruit. It’s healthy, it’s delicious, and it may just make someone’s day!
- Write a thank you note to someone who has influenced your life positively. Everyone appreciates the knowledge that they have made an impact on someone else.
- Hand out kindness coupons. Give friends and family kindness coupons they can redeem for kind favour.
- Drop off a plant or cookies at your local police station. These men and women are often only confronted with the negative aspects of life. Show them that you appreciate their contribution to your community.
- Organise a clothing drive at work. Most people have items they want to discard of but often don’t have the time or don’t know where it is needed. Ask them to bring it to work and then drop it off at a shelter or charity organisation.
These are just a few ideas to get you going. Try it, or any other thought of generosity, for one week and notice what happens as a consequence. Chances are you’ll notice that kindness has a way of catching on!
With all the benefits kindness lends to mind and body, you stand to reap major rewards. So start being kind today!