With the chaotic, fast-paced world that many of us live in today, and its constant demands from home, work and school, it can be all too easy for us to focus on our own pressures without considering the needs of others. World and local news sources often focus on negative stories which can make us somewhat despair at the apparent lack of human kindness and the suffering and pain that our fellow humans can inflict on each other.
However, every now and then a story appears which puts a smile on our faces and provides an inner sense of warmth. These stories very often involve an act of kindness, possibly between two strangers, for no obvious reason except for a wish on the giver’s part to assist a person in need.
But what is not widely acknowledged is that an act of kindness is not only hugely beneficial to the receiver but it can also bestow great benefits on the giver. The concept of the ‘helpers’ high’ is now recognised as being an important element of wellbeing as it increases the production of serotonin, which is commonly known as the ‘happy chemical’ that provides healing and calming feelings.
This is not a fallacy emanating from those of a particular religious faith, or people who are genuinely decent with a strong moral sense of right and wrong, but is backed up by years of scientific research. Of course, we all know that one should not even consider hopping on the kindness train just for the physical and psychological benefits that may be gleaned, but it is inspiring to realise that being pro-social not only feels good, but also does us good.
Let’s delve a little further into how showing a little kindness can be a win-win situation for all concerned.
Kindness reduces stress
When we engage in acts of kindness towards others, we are essentially getting out of ourselves and away from the stressors in our own lives. Taking a break from our own problems and choosing to take the time to offer help to others can have a positive impact on our emotions. An extra benefit to this is that it helps to build and strengthen our relationships with each other.
It can help ease anxiety
We have all heard of the damaging effects of anxiety on mental health and life in general and there are several ways to reduce its effect using such practices as exercise, mindfulness and medication. But it is now recognised that being kind towards others has been linked with a noticeable reduction in the symptoms of anxiety. A study that was carried out in the University of British Columbia found that participants who engaged in kind acts displayed significant increases in positive moods.
Kindness makes us happier
Many people will recognise the feeling of well-being they may experience when they have done something nice for another person. It makes us feel good to know that we have increased someone else’s happiness however temporary, whether it is a stranger, a friend or a family member. But it is also interesting to note that on a biochemical level these acts of kindness have been known to increase dopamine levels in the brain, often dubbed the ‘feel-good’ chemical, which give a natural high in feelings of satisfaction and happiness.
Kindness makes us healthier
Doing a kind deed gives us a glowing feeling or warm emotion which derives from the production of oxytocin, a hormone that enlarges blood vessels and therefore can reduce blood pressure and protect the heart. So being kind is literally as well as metaphorically good for the heart. Another health benefit of oxytocin is that it can slow down the ageing process as it reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system – making us young at heart!
It is important to remember that while some people are innately kind, it is a trait that we all have the capacity to cultivate by choice.
This article is dedicated to the memory of my sister, Marion Lynch