We’re made to be kind
We’re biologically wired to be kind – it’s human nature. That’s not to say everyone behaves kindly, we know that’s not true – many of us can be unkind, either intentionally or through lack of awareness. Sometimes, through outside influences or the stress of our day-to-day lives, we can lose this inherent ability. But it is possible to learn to be kinder, to develop this trait with practice and repetition.
Just like any skill or attribute, people can actively work on building their compassion and develop a mindset conducive to kindness and understanding towards others. Darwin observed that humans have an enormous capacity for prosocial, cooperative, and altruistic behaviour.2 That is, we’re all capable of kindness if we choose.
Giving is good for you – the health benefits of being kind
Though it may sound counterintuitive, there are studies that suggest that the act of providing support or being kind can have profound benefits for the “giver”:
Kindness helps minimise anxiety
Being kind has the ability to minimise anxiety by creating a sense of improved emotional wellbeing. When we are kind, we alter our focus from our own worries and anxiety, instead looking to the needs and happiness of others. Being kind to others allows us to cultivate a sense of peace, calm, and compassion within ourselves ultimately helping us minimise anxiety.
Could practicing kindness be a cure?
While there’s no magic ‘one-size fits all’ solution, there are many (proven and anecdotal) ways to reduce feelings of anxiety, such as meditation, exercise, prescription medications, talking therapies and natural remedies. But one thing not really talked about is how being nice to others can actually be one of the easiest, most inexpensive ways to keep anxious feelings at bay. You see, as the giver of kindness, you can reap the psychological reward – in other words, it feels good to be nice.”
When you’re kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centres are activated, as if you were the recipient of the good deed—not the giver. This phenomenon is called the “helper’s high.3
Kindness reduces stress
Helping others lets you get outside of yourself and take a break from the stressors in your own life, and this behaviour can also make you better equipped to handle stressful situations. Scientists have found that perpetually kind people have less cortisol (the stress hormone) and age slower than the average population4.
Doing nice things for others helps boost your serotonin and dopamine levels, the neurotransmitters in your brain responsible for feelings of satisfaction, reward and wellbeing. Like exercise, kindness and altruism also releases endorphins, that euphoric feeling that money can’t buy.5
Being kind can actually boost heart health too!
Physically, making others feel good can also affect the actual chemical balance of your heart. Kindness releases the hormone oxytocin (also known as the ‘love hormone’), which causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.6
Giving is good for society
When we give to others it activates the areas of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. It can make us feel closer to people, it creates community. When we have communities or ‘tribes’ of like-minded people helping each other out, it helps reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness
One common description of loneliness is the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met7 and it’s widely reported as a contributing factor to mental health conditions like depression. Not feeling like we have anyone to share our problems with can impact on our psychological mental resilience. When times get difficult, it’s good to talk and share how you’re feeling, which is why social connection is important.
Kindness is contagious!
Apparently, the positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brain of everyone who witnesses a kind act, improving their mood and making them significantly more likely to “pay it forward.” This means one good deed in a crowded area can create a domino effect of kind deeds and positivity8.