Most of us grow up knowing that being kind is the right thing to do. As children we’re taught to “be kind and share”, in school we’re taught to “be kind to make friends”, and in love, we’re taught to “marry someone kind if you want it to last”.
We know that being kind is right. It makes us feel good, it makes those around us feel good. So why don’t we do it more often?
On top of giving you the ultimate warm fuzzies, kindness does more for us than we know. Scientists and academics have been looking to see if it can extend your life – perhaps so! If this is true, well then we have no excuse to be nothing but kind!
What is kindness?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines kindness as “the quality of being generous, helpful, and caring about people.” Feelings like affection, warmth and concern are associated with being kind.
Charles Darwin believed in survival of the fittest, often associated with biological competitiveness and self-interested. He also argued that sympathy and caring for others is instinctual. Humans are profoundly social beings, and we’re a caring species at heart. Could this mean that we’re destined to be kind?
What does science tell us?
In 2019, UCLA opened the Bedari Kindness Institute. It’s the world’s first Institute dedicated to the study of kindness. They’ve pooled the knowledge of some of UCLA’s top professors to understand the fundamentals of being kind. Their commitment to not only engage in leading research but turn it into real-world practices is eye-opening.
“We don’t just want people to learn about kindness, we want people to DO kindness,” says Daniel Fessler, the Institute’s director.
Some of their findings on contemporary human health reveal how important the mind is when it comes to well-being. Humans are the most co-operative animal on the planet. Through our behaviour, we can directly enhance the welfare of those around us.
The discovery of the health benefits of kindness started with a research experiment featuring rabbits. Scientists in the ’70s were conducting tests to see how food affected the heart when they unexpectedly discovered something fascinating. One of the groups of lab rabbits fared much better than the others, despite being fed the same harmful diet.
It turned out that the thriving rabbits had the same affectionate caretaker. She wasn’t just giving them food but showing them kindness. Just by talking to the animals, offering them a cuddle, she was extending their lifespan.
The Health Benefits of Kindness
The act or quality of kindness helps us relate to other people. It means we’re able to build more positive relationships with our friends, family and even perfect strangers. Kindness leads to empathy which leads to acceptance and tolerance. Kindness has an actual effect on our well-being.
Let’s unpack the top three.
Kindness releases feel-good hormones.
Have you ever noticed how you feel after you’ve done something kind? Pretty damn good. Well, that’s because when we’re kind, it boosts our serotonin. Serotonin is often referred to as the “happy chemical” because it contributes to the pleasure centres in our brain. Like exercise and laughing, altruism releases endorphins making us feel on top of the world.
Kindness is good for your heart.
Remember the rabbit theory? The happy rabbits survived an extremely high-fat diet because of the hormone oxytocin, also known as the love hormone. It causes a release of nitric oxide in the blood vessels causing them to dilate. This expansion reduces your blood pressure, protecting your heart.
Ever wondered where the term “heartwarming” comes from? It’s this exact feeling!
Kindness reduces stress and anxiety.
In today’s fast-paced society, stress levels are through the roof. According to an article published by the Mental Health Organisation in 2018, “74% of UK adults feel stressed and overwhelmed or unable to cope.” That’s a pretty gut-wrenching statistic, perhaps we all need to practice a little kindness?
Helping others gets you outside of your own mind, your own thoughts. It’s a great way to break away from the stressors in your own life. By building relationships with others you’re engaging in affiliate behaviour, another essential component of coping.
But, can kindness help us live longer?
According to Health.com, you’re at a far greater risk of heart disease if you don’t have a network of family and friends. Being alone can break your heart – literally. The act of kindness helps you develop essential social networks, something experts have pinpointed as protection against heart disease. So yes, being kind can help you live longer.
Even if it doesn’t extend your life exponentially, living a kind life means you’ll be infinitely richer. You’ll experience camaraderie, allowing other people to enrich your life while you enrich theirs. Practising kindness and developing meaningful relationships can only improve your life.
Top 5 Ideas for Living a Kinder Life
- Stop overthinking and just do. Don’t get caught up in forcing yourself to be perfect. You know what it means to be kind, to care. Trust your instincts.
- Don’t indulge your negative thoughts and insecurities. Learn to celebrate your friend’s successes instead of comparing them to yours.
- Practice inclusion. Learn to take in your surroundings, understand your peers and offer a lifeline. There are too many people feeling unloved or unwanted. Do what you can to change this.
- React with kindness. This is easier said than done because our natural instinct to defend is often so strong. Consciously remind yourself to react humbly, with a smile, with gratitude.
- Start small. Being kind doesn’t mean quitting your job and starting an NPO. You can be considerate in everyday life. It’s as simple as letting someone go in front of you in peak traffic.
Every day you have the opportunity to be kind. You can choose to do something nice for someone. You can choose to be conscious, to be thoughtful. The act of being kind should come naturally to us, and yet we so easily forget how important it is. Perhaps if we focused on the difference it could make to our lifetime, we’d practice it more freely.
It’s cool to be kind.
Looking to spread some happiness? Check out these 101 Random Acts of Kindness today!