There is little doubt that performing acts of kindness has a profound impact in the lives of others. What you might not be aware of is the many positive health benefits it provides for you, as well. Scientific research strongly suggests that kindness promotes better health physically and mentally. Consider the following:
Kindness promotes happiness. Not only do we feel good when we perform an act of kindness, but there is an actual biochemical response that occurs in our brain that is often referred to as “helper’s high.” It is believed that the good feeling is due primarily to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin – known as endogenous opioids. They cause levels of dopamine to rise in the brain which results in a natural high.
Kindness enhances heart health. Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body. Of particular interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which expands the vessels. This reduces blood pressure, and therefore oxytocin is known as a “cardio-protective” hormone. The key is that acts of kindness can produce oxytocin, and therefore kindness can be said to be cardio-protective.
Kindness slows aging. Two known villains of speeding the process of aging are free radicals and inflammation, both of which tend to result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices. Research suggests that oxytocin which we produce through emotional warmth reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and thus slows aging. Incidentally these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease, so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart.
Kindness creates healthier relationships. This is probably one of the most obvious points. We all know that we tend to gravitate towards people who are kind. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people and creates a greater sense of bonding. Kindness is an inherent human trait. In other words, we are wired to be kind. Our ancestors had to learn to get along with each other. The stronger the emotional bonds were within the groups, the greater the chances of survival. When we are kind to one another, we feel a connection. Thus, new relationships are formed and existing ones strengthened.
Kindness is contagious. When we’re kind, we inspire others to follow suit. As we practice virtues of understanding, compassion, and empathy, we find that goodness returns to us in like manner. Being kind is like paying forward, and the benefits come back in unexpected ways.