Kindness is Its Own Reward – and May Lengthen Your Life Too
If you pay any attention to the news – and, I confess, I do – you can’t help but feel sad over the huge amount of brutal barbarity going on in the world.
History teaches us that this is nothing new. People have been extremely cruel to each other since before anybody kept records of killings and torture.
Therefore, when I saw a headline online about kindness strengthening your brain, I had to check it out. Turns out, that study focused on teaching kindness to children, which is great, but wasn’t what I was looking for.
However, researchers have previously studied how much kindness benefits our health – and the answer is: quite a lot.
Kindness Directly Benefits Your Heart
The warm, fuzzy glow you get when you’re nice to someone isn’t imaginary.
It comes from the hormone oxytocin.
Oxytocin causes your body to release nitric oxide (NO). NO is a powerful gas that relaxes and widens your veins and arteries, reducing your blood pressure.
That protects your entire cardiovascular system, especially your heart, from the dangers of hypertension.
Free Radicals and Inflammation
Excessive free radicals help destroy our bodies from within by eroding our functional tissues.
Several decades of research have shown that silent inflammation is one of the largest single factors behind ALL the chronic diseases we associate with old age. That includes arthritis, heart problems, strokes, cancer, diabetes, dementia – and more.
And the “nice” hormone oxytocin inhibits both free radicals and inflammation.
Another hormone that drives aging is cortisol, the stress hormone. However, when you’re feeling and acting kind, grateful and loving, you’re NOT stressed out. Those feelings reduce cortisol.
Dr. Kien Vuu is a doctor promoting longevity. He notes the long-lived people in the Blue Zones all have a sense of purpose that connects them to other people and, hence, promotes kind behavior.
This purpose occupies your mental and emotional attention so you stop focusing on your own problems. You build communities and networks – and many studies show that people with networks of family and friends live longer than people who spend most of their time alone.
Dr. Vuu also notes that kindness not only lowers inflammation, it boosts your immune system.
According to Allan Luks, author of “The Healing Power of Doing Good” and one of the top experts on volunteerism, helping other people also releases endorphins.
These biochemicals not only make you feel good, they also reduce your stress, so you’re physically and mentally healthier.
On Living Longer
A 2017 study published in Evolution and Human Behavior compared the life expectancies of people who occasionally acted as caregivers and those who never did that. The people in the first group lived longer.
In 2018, a meta-analysis was published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. It found that doing nice things for people improved your own health and well-being.
People with mental and emotional challenges often think a lot about themselves and their own problems. They’re often socially, physically or emotionally isolated. They believe nobody cares about them.
I’ve heard many people “talk to themselves.” I can’t be certain, but it seemed to me they were talking to someone else – someone in their past. They were still reacting to something bad someone did or said to them.
Everybody would like to “tell off” somebody in their past. I certainly would.
But most of us are too busy living in the present.
I believe many people would feel better if they’d focus on how they could help other people, if only so they’d stop constantly ruminating on their own issues – past events that can’t be changed anyway.
Kindness is Especially Important for Mental Health
Numerous studies across all-ages show that performing acts of kindness improves your satisfaction with life, how well you feel and overall happiness.
Social psychologists surveyed over 200,000 people in every major region of the world. Nearly 1/3 of them reported giving some money to charity in the past month – and those people were happier than those who donated nothing.
The difference in happiness was equivalent to having twice as much income. That is: donate money to charity, and you’ll feel as though you doubled your income.
That’s a great bargain.
Kindness for Its Own Sake
Many of us do things for friends and family with the (usually unexpressed) expectation we’ll get something in return.
I’ll buy dinner tonight and you can pay next week.
That’s good for many situations. It contributes to social bonding. But experts say the most valuable acts of kindness are done with no expectation of a reward or reciprocation. Help out a stranger or an invalid or anyone who’ll probably never be in position to return the favor.
Make Kindness Count for Them – and You
Elizabeth Dunn’s research found that kindness is especially effective when you feel a connection toward the other person and you can see the difference you make in their life.
Obviously, that’s easiest when you’re being kind to people you know: family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers and so on. It also explains why many people will donate to a local charity instead of an international one.
And it explains why every successful charity makes you feel connected to its cause. They tell stories of their successes. Many international children’s charities copy Save the Children’s approach of letting you “adopt” a specific child.
Sadly, the current international problem is not going to stop without a lot more bloodshed and cruelty.
We can’t change that, but we can change what we do in our daily lives.
Forget about “random” acts of kindness. Commit yourself to carry out many DELIBERATE acts of kindness.