Practising kindness really can improve our wellbeing. We all know that eating a healthy diet, exercising and getting enough sleep are essential for our health. So, too, are not smoking or drinking too much alcohol. And, as scientists have recently discovered, getting up and moving rather than sitting too long provides benefits. So does improving how fast we walk, especially as we age.
Now we can add being kind to the list of life-enhancing habits we can cultivate.
What does practising kindness mean?
Practising kindness simply means trying consistently to be friendly, generous, and considerate. We can take charge of how kind we want to be.
It’s kind of like weight training. We found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others with care and a desire to help.Dr Ritchie Davidson, University of Winsconsin.
Chrestos, the Greek word for kind, means ‘useful’, which implies that kindness involves action. Action can be doing something for someone, like smiling at a stranger or doing the shopping for a person in isolation.
But kindness also includes listening with respectful, focused attention and offering kind words. Words of encouragement and comfort, courtesy and compliments fit the definition of kindness.
Simply being well-mannered towards others shows kindness.
Health benefits of being kind
Kindness has many benefits. Here are some.
- Being kind increases oxytocin, which some people call the ‘love hormone’. This improves overall heart health.
- Practising kindness helps people to feel stronger and more energetic.
- It stimulates the production of serotonin. This feel-good hormone calms stress and makes you happy.
- Kindness connects people, reduces isolation and creates a social bond. You can read about how loneliness may be the next big health threat here.
- It improves mood.
- Volunteers tend to live longer.
Below are more specific health benefits of regularly practising kindness from the Random Acts of Kindness website.
- Engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins, known as natural painkillers.
- Kind people have 23% less cortisol (the stress hormone). They also age slower than the rest of the population.
- Being kind increases positive mood and reduces anxiety.
- Committing acts of kindness releases oxytocin. This is known as a cardioprotective hormone which protects the heart by lowering blood pressure.
- As well, life satisfaction and physical health can be improved through being kind.
- Kindness to others reduces depression. Our wellbeing increases
Positive contagion and kindness
We’re so used to hearing about that other contagion that it may come as a surprise to read ‘positive contagion’. But kindness is contagious. Kindness acts on our brains. It improves mood and makes people likely to ‘Pay it forward’. In other words, one good deed in a crowded day can create a domino effect. Perhaps your smile, nod, or simple ‘Thank you’ will affect a dozen people.
We will never know how the small acts of kindness we render will affect those who receive them. Maybe the effect will last a few minutes. An hour? A day? One tiny act of kindness may even be remembered for a lifetime.
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