Kindness increases your health and wellbeing – John Magee
Kindness is great for others, but did you also know it’s excellent for your health and wellbeing?
When researching in 2012 for my book Kindness Matters, I was astounded by all the health and wellbeing facts associated with carrying out acts of kindness and Random Acts of Kindness (RAOK).
Just imagine what would happen if you were to wake each day with a clear intention to carry out more acts of kindness throughout your day and how your health and wellbeing would improve. I wanted all of my UK schools to gain a deeper understanding of those health and wellbeing facts, so check these out:
Kindness is teachable and transferable.
All behaviour is learned behaviour. As we learn new things and make them part of our lifestyle, others can be taught to model or copy this behaviour. Children are natural kindness ambassadors, as they mimic/model what they see, so they can quickly ‘pick up’ what it means to be kind.
For us, it’s like exercise, where the more we carry out kindness, the fitter and stronger our compassion and empathy become.
Kindness is infectious and contagious.
When we witness an act of kindness, the possibility of us paying forward any such act we have seen is inevitable because it gives us that warm fuzzy feeling to know that good things are happening. This is known as the “ripple effect” or “geometric progression”. This can happen either consciously or unconsciously. Either way, paying things forward directly impacts our emotional wellbeing (our mood) because we see the good things it does for others, which makes us feel good, too!
KINDNESS INCREASES YOUR HEALTH AND WELLBEING
Did you know that the four main chemicals in our bodies are responsible for our happiness? The four chemicals are:
Scientific studies have proven that when we receive an act of kindness or carry out an act of kindness ourselves, we experience the positive consequences and impacts on our bodies and minds. We naturally release one or more of the four natural feel-good chemicals into our ‘system’. I don’t know about you, but who wouldn’t want to feel happier more often? Test the theory for yourself – be kind, and see how your body responds!
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres.
Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, enabling us to see both kind rewards and act toward them. That is WHY practising daily kindness is vital to your health!
You may be less familiar with oxytocin and may or may not know that it’s affectionately called the ‘hugging hormone’! Oxytocin is released through closeness with another person or creature. However, it doesn’t mean you must go to school daily and hug your co-workers or random people in the street (even though I have heard of an organisation offering free hugs like this). In scientific studies, it is said that it takes an average of seven seconds of contact in this positive interaction before your body will release oxytocin, so make those next hugs count! The production and release of oxytocin can also be triggered through social bonding, like eye-to-eye contact and attentiveness. These things can strengthen bonds and relationships and help people perceive you more positively.
Endorphins are responsible for masking pain or discomfort, which explains why when some people are going through a hardship in life, such as bereavement or a relationship breakdown, they may choose to volunteer at a community group or help at a local charity because this kind of giving and time-spending helps the release of endorphins to mask that initial pain. You can also get this release from going to the gym or playing sports, but it’s much nicer to use your outlet to help someone else feel better along the way, don’t you agree?
Serotonin is widely understood to control your mood. If you’re in a good mood, you’ve got lots of serotonin flowing through your body to thank for it. It’s simple, really – if you want to be in a better mood, do something to change it.
Go out and do something kind for someone, and the serotonin will start flowing. It’s a circumstance where all people involved end up feeling great!
When you are kind to others, something magical happens to the receiver. Their brain recognises the effect of the kind act and triggers a pleasure centre, which is then stimulated by the giver of the kind deed in a phenomenon widely known as the “helpers high”. By focusing on someone else, you can pull away from your self-preoccupation and problems, even for a short while. Studies have found that when people with severe medical conditions (e.g., cancer or chronic pain) “counsel” other patients with those same conditions, the “counsellors” often experience less depression, distress, and disability and, in turn experience more pleasure. Speaking from personal experience, this is one of the many reasons I practice daily kindness, as it always helps me find a way through my problems and issues. There’s nothing to lose by trying!
KINDNESS DECREASES POOR MENTAL HEALTH
Research by Emily Ansell of the Yale University School of Medicine found that people who consciously woke each day and applied acts of kindness reported less negative emotions and increased happiness when questioned about their wellbeing. If you’re having a stressful day, things like opening doors for people, giving compliments, offering to help with chores etc., can massively reduce cortisol production (cortisol is the ‘stress’ hormone). As I write this today, I have had a somewhat stressful morning myself (kids, eh?), so I have gone out of my way to apply even more kindness in my day. We all have stressful days, but we can do something about them.
In a study from researchers at the University of British Columbia, participants were interested in whether performing acts of kindness would reduce social anxiety. They theorised that acts of kindness might help to counter negative social expectations by helping socially anxious people create more positive perceptions — and expectations — of their social environment. Results found, over a four-week period, that when people acted kind, this decreased their need to avoid social interactions due to fear of a negative experience. Anxiety seemed to be replaced with confidence.
Dr Joseph Rock (PsyD): “The key to overcoming social anxiety lies in your ability to focus on something other than your thoughts. When you decide not to do something you want to avoid, you reward yourself and run the risk of getting caught up in a cycle of avoidance. By applying daily kindness as much as you can throughout your day, you experience the benefits, reducing the anxiety.”
If faced with depression, some people choose to be in solitude. Others choose not to share with others what they are feeling. By participating in acts of kindness, there tends to be social interaction. At this stage, individuals can form self-realisation from their kind acts and reduce feelings of depression and increase feelings of happiness. I have personally worked with people suffering from depression, and I encourage them to consistently apply ‘random acts of kindness’ for 30 days. The transformation is fantastic because people begin to see life much more positively.
Ageing on a biochemical level is a combination of many things, but two culprits that speed up the process are free radicals and inflammation. Both culprits can result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices of self-involvement. Incidentally, these two culprits also play a significant role in heart disease, another reason kindness matters and is good for the heart. Remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (there it is again), which we produce through emotional warmth and bonding, reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and thus slows ageing at its source. I don’t know about you, but having something that will slow down my crow’s feet and the odd wrinkle here and there would be very helpful as I’m “getting on a bit” (according to my children)!
As we age, we should always monitor our blood pressure – especially if it’s ever getting high. Dr David R. Hamilton states that committing acts of kindness lowers blood pressure because when we engage in kind acts, we feel emotional warmth and release our beloved oxytocin. The oxytocin causes the release of a different chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels. This can help reduce blood pressure; oxytocin is known as a “cardio-protective” hormone. It’s got some good names for itself; I’ll say that!
Since writing my book, “Kindness Matters” https://kindnessmatters.co.uk/books/ I have been a man on a mission – a kindness mission. If everyone woke up each day and consciously planned what kind deeds they could do that day and for the rest of their lives, imagine the positive consequences for the giver, receiver and the wider community.
Knowing that you’re making yourself healthier in mind and body is just an added bonus.
Please encourage anyone who has read this #edukindnessblog to share it as far and wide as possible and with as many schools/teachers to “Take the 30 Day Challenge” on my website and experience the health benefits yourself.
Nobody does any act of kindness out of compulsion; they do it out of compassion – John Magee
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