Does it pay to be kind? From ‘helper’s high’ to living longer, there are numerous benefits to playing nice.
Many people are claiming that ‘things are getting better’ or ‘we’re back to normal’, but what if that doesn’t quite ring true for you yet? Around 1 in 5 (21%) adults experienced some form of depression in early 2021 which is more than double that observed prior to the pandemic. We’re living in the midst of a mental health epidemic and it’s clearer than ever that amongst boosting the array of professional solutions, we also need to be kinder to those around us and more considerate of the delicate balancing act they may be doing behind the scenes to show up as a functioning human.
Showing love isn’t just reserved for your partner or for Valentine’s Day; it can be extended to colleagues, friends, even strangers. Simply being kind to someone can make a massive difference in their outlook and general mood, and your own. So in honour of Random Acts of Kindness Day, what is the actual effect of kindness on our health?
Kindness comes in many forms, and one of the trickiest things to navigate can often be working out the best way to show someone love. Knowing the person’s love language gives you a headstart, as you know what they will appreciate the most, whether it’s a small gift, an act of service or even quality time.
Acts of kindness can directly affect the way that we feel through changes to hormones; the secret is oxytocin, often touted as the ‘love hormone’. Of course, we can’t spend weeks being happy on the high that we get from a single act of kindness, and that’s why it’s best employed as a practice. So what are the benefits of being kind, aside from actually being kind, and can being altruistic make us live longer?
Oxytocin directly affects our blood pressure and cortisol levels; the next time you’re feeling anxious or stressed in public, why not try helping someone out? This phenomenon is known as ‘helper’s high’ and it generates endorphins in the same way that exercise does. Whether you show kindness through small daily acts or through organised activities like giving to charity, being kind literally makes you healthier and more positive.
The practice also stimulates serotonin production, in the same way that many medical antidepressants do. Serotonin heals your wounds, calms you down, and makes you happy, and the practice of being kind in daily life is being tested as part of psychotherapy in combination with other treatments.
According to Christine Carter, author of “Raising Happiness In Pursuit of Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, “people who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organisations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.” By practicing kindness more in daily life, we can not only help others but also give ourselves a much-needed boost.
While many of us are often kind just for the sake of being kind, the added knowledge of the boost it gives to health is sure to make people more aware of how they can be even kinder on a daily basis.