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February 17 is Random Acts of Kindness Day, a holiday created to encourage all of us to show kindness to others. When we practice kindness, we display the qualities of friendliness, generosity, empathy and compassion.
There’s evidence that kindness not only benefits the receiver, it brings benefits to the giver as well.
Kindness and empathy help us relate to other people and develop positive connections with family, friends, pets and even strangers that we encounter. Besides improving personal relationships, kindness can actually make us healthier.
Check out these eight ways kindness boosts health.
Kindness Releases Serotonin
Acts of kindness release serotonin, the “feel good” hormone. Serotonin does amazing things for the body. It stabilizes mood and produces feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin helps brain cells and central nervous system cells communicate with each other. Additionally, it aids sleeping, eating and digestion.
Kindness Eases Anxiety
Occasional anxiety isn’t harmful. It can help us meet a deadline or prepare the body for action with a flight or fight response. However, chronic anxiety causes feelings of doom, panic attacks, depression, headaches, breathing disorders, irritability and muscles aches and pains.
Kindness helps ease anxiety by focusing on others rather than ourselves. When we help others, even in small ways, the “thinking” side of the brain takes a break and the creative side engages, which contributes to less anxiety and a calming of the body.
Kindness Lowers Stress
Similarly, kindness lowers stress and the effects it has on the body. When we get outside of our own lives, by showing kindness to others, the body releases endorphins. These polypeptides made by the pituitary gland and central nervous system help the body relax. They reduce pain as well.
Helping others causes feelings of satisfaction, known as “helper’s high”, because of the pleasure effect associated with endorphins.
Kindness Releases Oxytocin
Practicing kindness releases another powerful hormone, often referred to as the “love hormone”. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter as well, associated with empathy, trust, sensuality and relationship building.
Oxytocin benefits heart health by lowering blood pressure and expanding blood vessels. And, studies show that oxytocin is addictive. Once the body finds a source for it, it does not forget. When practicing kindness releases oxytocin and we feel good as a result, we are encouraged to do it again…and again. Kindness is a wonderfully addictive habit to acquire.
Kindness Lowers Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to an invader, such as bacteria or an infection. However, chronic inflammation is a major contributor to poor health. It leads to diabetes, cancer, pain, obesity, migraines, rheumatoid arthritis and a category of diseases known as autoimmune disorders.
The oxytocin produced as a result of kindness lowers inflammation throughout the body, which helps prevent diseases.
Kindness Prolongs Life
Amazingly, kindness creates longevity by strengthening relationships. Those healthy relationships contribute to a positive mental outlook and improved heart health, which in turn lead to a longer, happier life.
Studies show that we have a 24% lower risk of early death when we practice kindness toward others and volunteer our time and skills to benefit others.
Kindness Returns to Us
Although this benefit may seem way “out there” to some, I can personally attest to the truth of it. Kindness sent out, returns to the sender. Kindness is often likened to the waves that ripple outward, when a pebble is dropped into water. Those waves continue on, as energy. And eventually…or sometimes quickly…those waves come back to the sender.
Another way of thinking of it is this: we reap what we sow. When we plant seeds of kindness, kindness grows and we harvest the blessings of it. When we plant seeds of discord or unkindness, that’s what grows and we harvest that whether we want to or not.
I’ve experienced this phenomenon so many times, and I’ll bet you have too. I let a car cut in front of me, in a line of traffic. And a short time later, a car gives me the same grace. Or, I practice random kindness to a stranger and then a stranger shows kindness to me. These experiences build trust and deepen feelings of wellbeing, which brings to us all the other benefits listed here.
Kindness Fosters Self Care
Practicing kindness can create a sense of purpose in life. And when we have a sense of purpose, when we enjoy what we do, we tend to take better care of ourselves. Kindness to others results in kindness to ourselves in the form of self care and preventative health care.
Start a Kindness Habit
Rather than practice kindness for one day, consider these ways to start a kindness habit:
- Keep a running list of people you know that might need assistance and ways you can help. Running errands for a shut-in, walking the neighbor’s dog, checking in on loved ones and sending encouraging texts to friends are all simple ways to help.
- Raise your awareness throughout the day, watching for opportunities to offer kindness. Smile at people, even while wearing a mask during the pandemic. Your eyes convey the smile. Acknowledge people by thanking them for doing their jobs. Compliment others. When you look for ways to practice kindness, you’ll find them.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Gratitude helps us think kind thoughts, about others, about ourselves, about circumstances.
- Try a kindness challenge…for seven days, for 14 days, for 30 days. Every day do one random act of kindness. Go beyond your comfort zone. Have fun.
Practice kindness today. Practice kindness everyday. It’s good for others, good for the world and good for you.
Check out this inspiring book by David Hamilton, The Five Side Effects of Kindness.
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I am not a medical practitioner. I study health and wellness related topics and share experiences from my own personal healing journey.