Why Kindness May Be the Best Medicine
Be Kind For Your Health
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” - Dalai Lama
You know those warm and fuzzy feelings you get after performing a good deed? It turns out that they’re backed by science. Known as “helper’s high,” your brain’s pleasure and reward centers actually light up whenever you show kindness to someone else. This phenomenon suggests that deep down, we’re wired to be kind. It’s an idea that feels exceedingly hopeful in today’s divided world.
The next time you feel down, know that the lift you need may be one act of altruism away. Though fascinatingly, the benefits of kindness extend far beyond the mind. From lowering blood pressure to reducing pain, acts of compassion can have measured effects on our physical health and longevity. In honor of World Kindness Day on November 13th, let’s explore the science behind why kindness may be one of the effective medicines of all.
Kindness Induces Happiness
Studies have shown that when we engage in altruistic behavior—putting the well-being of others before our own without expectation of anything in return—we release a cascade of feel-good chemicals—from oxytocin (the “love hormone”) to serotonin (the “happy chemical”) to dopamine (known to produce a feeling of euphoria). These mood-boosting chemicals are said to soothe stress and ease depression, as well as help you feel joy, bond with others, and experience pleasure.
Altruism Helps Us Live Longer
There have been many studies illuminating a clear link between feelings of social belonging and greater longevity. According to the American Psychological Society, people who volunteer have lower mortality rates and another study found volunteering slowed the progress of cognitive decline. Interestingly, the studies suggest that it’s not just the act of volunteering that matters, but the intent to help others as well. Those who feel they’ve made a positive impact on their community are more likely to live a longer, healthier life.
Social Bonds Heal Our Hearts
We have long connected our emotions to our hearts, and what an intuitive association this has turned out to be. We now know that loneliness can increase our risk of cardiovascular disease and, conversely, kindness can strengthen our physical hearts. When we experience an act of compassion or care, we often say it “warms our hearts.” That’s likely due to the release of oxytocin, the “love hormone” that we mentioned earlier. Oxytocin contributes to blood vessel dilation, which reduces blood pressure and improves heart health. Best of all, even just witnessing a good deed can be enough to produce this cardioprotective effect.
Giving to Others Reduces Pain
A series of studies published in 2017 found that the areas of the brain that react to pain seem to be deactivated by the experience of giving and volunteering. Furthermore, the more meaningful people felt their good deeds were, the less they experienced pain. Engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins, the brain’s natural painkillers. Secreted by the nervous system in response to stress, endorphins function similarly to opioids. You might know them best for their role in “runner’s high”—the sense of euphoria that occurs after strenuous exercise.
Simple Ways to Be More Kind
Our brains are programmed to reward us when we’re kind. But the stress and busyness of life can wear us down and leave us out of practice. If the benefits we’ve covered are just what the doctor ordered, these simple acts of service can help uplift you and everyone around you. Just remember—a single act of kindness will only take you so far. For best results, you'll want to get a daily dose. The more regularly we practice kindness, the greater and more enduring the rewards.
Try these simple acts of kindness
- Give a genuine compliment to someone you encounter.
- Add money to an expired parking meter.
- Volunteer for a cause you believe in.
- Allow other cars to merge into your lane while driving.
- Write five encouraging comments on social media.
- Volunteer to walk dogs at an animal shelter or for a neighbor.
- Make dinner for someone you love.
- Start a friendly conversation while waiting in line.
Kindness is one of the rare acts that benefit ourselves and others simultaneously. As you build better relationships, a better community, and a better world, you’ll be building a happier, healthier self inside and out.
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This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.