Think back to the last time someone was kind to you. How did it make you feel? Now think about when you were kind to someone else. Remember how you felt in both situations. The beauty of kindness is that it feels just as good to receive it as it does to practice it. According to a new study, published in the psychology journal Translational Issues in Psychological Science, practicing kindness is tied to your overall well-being.
Sadly, in today’s fast-paced world many of us are so busy trying to keep up that we lose sight of what’s truly important. As we’re looking down at our phones and browsing social media, we’re walking by the mom with her stroller struggling to open the door, or the wallet that fell out of the man’s pocket a few feet ahead. Opportunities to be kind are all around us – and the smallest acts of kindness are often what make the biggest difference.
In one study, researchers analyzed 600 people with mild depression who participated in compassion training. Participants were separated into three groups, and were given different compassion exercises.
The first group was asked to do a “loving-kindness meditation” for 10 minutes. The second group performed an "acts of kindness exercise” and the third group was asked to journal about their relationships and life experiences.
Participants who practiced acts of kindness "showed the greatest reductions in depression and greatest increases in life satisfaction.” In other words, being kind is just as beneficial for you as it is for the other person. Kindness is the gift that keeps on giving!
Here are six science-backed benefits of practicing kindness:
- Increases happiness
According to a Harvard School Business School survey that looked at happiness in 136 countries, people who were altruistic were the happiest.
When it comes to kindness and happiness, there is a “positive feedback loop.” Researchers found “people in general felt happier when they were asked to remember a time they bought something for someone else—even happier than when they remembered buying something for themselves. This happiness boost was the same regardless of whether the gift cost $20 or $100.”
Furthermore, “The happier participants felt about their past generosity, the more likely they were in the present to choose to spend on someone else instead of themselves,” Greater Good reports. “Not all participants who remembered their past kindness felt happy. But the ones who did feel happy were overwhelmingly more likely to double down on altruism.”
- Boosts energy
“About half of participants in one study reported that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., a Sociologist and Senior Fellow at Greater Good Science Center.
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- Reduces anxiety and depression
In one study, researchers at the University of British Columbia observed a group of people with high levels of anxiety who performed at least six acts of kindness each week. At the end of 60 days, participants showed an improved mood, increased relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance.
“When we give of ourselves, especially if we start young, everything from life satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly improved. Mortality is delayed. Depression is reduced. Well-being and good fortune are increased,” according to research from Stephen Post of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
- Lowers blood pressure
Did you know acts of kindness can also protect your heart? Dr. David R. Hamilton, explains that practicing kindness produces oxytocin, a hormone that releases nitric oxide, which expands blood vessels – and as a result, lowers blood pressure.
- Reduces pain
When you practice kindness, endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers - are released in your brain. There’s a reason they call it the “helper’s high.” Being kind does, in fact, feel good.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health found “the same area of the brain that is activated in response to food or sex (namely, pleasure) lit up when the participants in the study thought about giving money to a charity.”
- Promotes longevity
Dr. Carter explains, “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.” Sign us up!
Even more fascinating, “people 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations 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,” she adds.
10 Simple Ways You Can Practice Kindness Every Day
“Kindness is power; the power to help someone, the power to move someone, the power to inspire someone. When you start by helping one person with kindness, you never know how far that spark will go.” - Raktivist
Even something as simple as a smile can make someone’s day. Did you know the simple act of smiling releases endorphins and “feel good” chemicals that are scientifically-proven to reduce pain and elevate mood?
- Give up your seat on the train to someone standing
Whether it’s an elderly person or the woman in high heels who has been standing for 20 minutes, choose to be kind and offer your seat to someone in need.
- Tell your loved ones how much you care
Even when we know someone loves us, it’s always nice to hear it. Take a minute to send your significant other a sweet text or leave your grandma a voicemail that shows you’re thinking about her.
- Forgive the driver with road rage
Instead of taking it personally and responding to anger with anger, choose to be kind. Let it go. Chances are that person is having a bad day and could use a little kindness and compassion.
- Give your coworker a genuine compliment
Surprise your coworker with a compliment, and make sure it comes from the heart. What makes this person unique? What qualities do you admire about them? Try to make the compliment more meaningful rather than superficial.
For example, “I can tell how hard you worked on that presentation. You had a lot of great ideas.” You are acknowledging both their hard work and creativity.
- Practice active listening when someone is talking to you
Are you a good listener? Many of us think that we are listening, when, the truth is we are planning what to say next, eager for our turn to speak.
Active listening means focusing entirely on what the other person is saying, processing it and coming up with a thoughtful response.
We all want to be heard and understood. Practice kindness by giving someone the gift of truly listening.
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- Say “thank you” more often
Expressing appreciation is an easy way to show kindness. Whether it’s your spouse or your coworker, saying “thank you” can strengthen your relationships.
- Hold the door open
Always glance behind you. It could be holding the door for someone rushing to get on to the train, or another tenant in your building with arms full of groceries – whoever it may be, holding the door open is a simple, kind gesture that everyone appreciates.
- Put some coins in someone else’s parking meter
Random acts of kindness don’t always need to be seen. The kindest gestures are the often the ones you do when nobody is watching.
- Leave someone a surprise sticky note
Get creative. Write something funny, inspirational or complimentary. Who wouldn’t love a thoughtful surprise like that?
We encourage all of you to perform at least one random act of kindness today – and share your stories in the comments!