There are many acts of kindness that can actually improve how you feel emotionally. You may have heard the expression “it’s better to give than receive…” but did you know that acts of kindness have proven scientific benefits to our mental health and emotional wellbeing?
Being kind, and acts of kindness, are more than a one-off activity. It’s a state of mind and attitude that focuses on helping others, without reward.
This could be anything from buying a stressed-out friend a coffee to donating to charity or even just complimenting a stranger on their shoes. Anything that makes someone else feel good is an act of kindness.
Every single culture and religion throughout history recognises kindness as something all humans require to be fully alive. Simple acts of kindness unlock our shared humanity, strengthen relationships, develop our communities, and deepen solidarity.
Consider another well-known phrase: “giving is its own reward.”
Although kindness loses some of its edge when the act is done for personal gain, that doesn’t mean simply being kind for the sake of being kind can’t benefit the giver as well as the receiver.
How to be Kind
If you want to experience some of these incredible physical and mental health benefits for yourself but aren’t quite sure where to start, you might be surprised how even the seemingly tiny things can have a big difference.
Here are some simple ways to boost someone else’s day and make you feel happier and more content too!
- Make tea or coffee for a co-worker.
- Compliment a stranger on their outfit or hair.
- Hold the door for someone.
- Donate money to a charity you care about.
- Offer to babysit to allow new parents a chance to practice some self care ideas without the kids or go on a date night.
- Pay for someone else’s groceries or dinner.
- Volunteer in your local community.
- Pick up litter you see on the street.
- Prepare a home spa ideas for a loved one to relax in.
- Send someone a gift or flowers out of the blue.
- Check-in with a friend you haven’t heard from in a while.
It doesn’t necessarily matter how you practice kindness.
The important thing is to make someone else feel loved, appreciated, and valued. And you’ll receive a whole host of physical and mental benefits as a thank you!
Acts of Kindness and their Proven Benefits
It seems strange, but there are numerous proven health benefits of kindness that may well surprise you.
Those good feelings you get when someone appreciates your gift or help? Well, there’s a reason for them...
1. Kindness Increases Oxytocin
Also known as the “love hormone,” an article in the New York Times showed that even just witnessing acts of kindness causes the brain to increase the production of oxytocin.
This hormone lowers blood pressure and improves our overall heart health, but it also has emotional benefits: increasing our feelings of self-esteem and boosting our optimism. In studies, witnessing acts of kindness was shown to reduce feelings of anxiety or shyness in social situations.
2. Kindness Boosts Energy Levels
In Christine Carter PhD’s book, Raising Happiness, she demonstrated that participants of a study felt “stronger and more energetic” after helping someone else.
Many participants also reported increased feelings of calm and a boost to their self-worth.
3. Kindness can Increase your Lifespan
Kindness might not be something we automatically associate with physical health, but studies have shown that regular acts of kindness can provide physical benefits that can even extend your lifespan.
In one study, people aged 55 and over who volunteered for 2+ organisations had a 44% lower likelihood of dying early. This was even after removing any other contributing factor such as physical health, exercise, gender, smoking, and much more. In Christine Carter’s book, she mentions the simple act of kindness offers “a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.”
The studies also found people who volunteer experienced fewer aches and pains in their daily lives, and giving to others can protect your overall health “twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease.”
4. Kindness Improves your Overall Happiness & Boosts Pleasure
A survey of happiness conducted in 2010 by Harvard Business School found that people who are generous with charitable donations were happiest of everyone surveyed.
A further investigation by Emory University shows that when we’re kind to others, the pleasure and reward centres of our brain light up. These mental responses are almost identical regardless of whether you’re the giver or the receiver of the good deed.
Giving a scientific basis to the “helpers high” most of us have experienced throughout our lives.
It’s worth mentioning here that these good deeds don’t need to be financially altruistic. Any selfless act that benefits someone else can provide these positive effects.
5. Kindness Releases Serotonin
Serotonin, or the “happy hormone,” is the feel-good chemical closely linked with feelings of happiness and mental wellbeing.
Medical antidepressants almost universally stimulate the production of this hormone as it’s so vital for our mental health.
But what’s really interesting is that studies show that practicing acts of kindness also stimulate the production of serotonin, leading to the happy and warm feelings we experience when we do something kind or helpful for another.
Acts of Kindness Decreases Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Being kind to others is one of the best ways to combat various mental health concerns, including stress, anxiety, and depression.
According to a 1998 study in Integrative Psychological and Behavioural Science, people who are frequently kind and generous have around 23% less cortisol – also known as the “stress hormone”. The study also found participants seemed to age slower than the general population!
In a study by the University of British Columbia, a group of individuals who suffered from high anxiety performed a minimum of six acts of kindness every week.
After just one month, every participant reported a significant boost in their overall positivity, felt more satisfied with their relationships, and socially anxious individuals reported a notable decrease in social avoidance.
Finally, a 2005 study published in the International Journal of Behavioural Medicine found that kind and generous people experienced severe reductions in depression and depressive thoughts.
These mental health benefits of kindness were extensive, boosting everything from life satisfaction to self-realisation and general wellbeing. The physical health of participants also improved, and kindness even delayed mortality.
What’s even more interesting is that participants of this study also seemed to experience an increase in good fortune.
(MORE: Health and Wellbeing)