Friday, June 9, 2017

Real Deal #33: Why Being Kind is Good for Your Health

Dr. Michele Borba, child psychologist: "Empathy is a key ingredient of resilience, the foundation to trust, the benchmark of humanity and core to everything that makes a society civilized."

THE INTRODUCTION

Quiet Revolution:
We all know the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. While this is an old adage we learn from an early age, there are a number of real-life benefits associated with the way we treat others. Science shows that as children, we’re biologically wired to be kind and we can further develop this trait with practice and repetition. Sometimes, however, due to outside influences and the stress of our day-to-day lives, we can lose this inherent ability. 

Kindness and empathy help us relate to other people and have more positive relationships with friends, family, and even perfect strangers we encounter in our daily lives. Besides just improving personal relationships, however, kindness can actually make you healthier. 

THE EVIDENCE

Here are science-backed ways to improve your health through kindness:

Kindness releases feel-good hormones

Have you ever noticed that when you do something nice for someone else, it makes you feel better too? This isn’t just something that happens randomly—it has to do with the pleasure centers in your brain. 

Doing nice things for others boosts your serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Like exercise, altruism also releases endorphins, a phenomenon known as a “helper’s high.”

Research from Psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky reports that when we're kind to another person, we feel more optimistic and positive. In addition to fostering feel-good emotions, kindness and empathy toward others is actually good for our health.

Kindness eases anxiety

Anxiety, whether it’s mild nervousness or severe panic, is an extremely common human experience. While there are several ways to reduce anxiety, such as meditation, exercise, prescription medications, and natural remedies, it turns out that being nice to others can be one of the easiest, most inexpensive ways to keep anxiety at bay.

As pointed out in a study on happiness from the University of British Columbia (UBC), “social anxiety is associated with low positive affect (PA), a factor that can significantly affect psychological well-being and adaptive functioning.” Positive affect refers to an individual’s experience of positive moods such as joy, interest, and alertness. UBC researchers found that participants who engaged in kind acts displayed significant increases in PA that were sustained over the four weeks of the study.

Performing good deeds for others, even over as little as a 10-day span, has been reported to boost happiness and life satisfaction.

Even a small gesture can make a big difference.

Kindness is good for your heart

Making others feel good can “warm” your heart, sure—but being nice to others can also affect the actual chemical balance of your heart. 

Kindness releases the hormone oxytocin. According to Dr. David Hamilton, “oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure).” 

Kindness strengthens your heart physically and emotionally. Maybe that’s why they say nice, caring people have really big hearts?

It can help you live longer

You may be shaking your head at this one, but we’re not just saying this—there’s science to back it up. According to Health.com, you’re at a greater risk of heart disease if you don’t have a strong network of family and friends. When you’re kind to others, you develop strong, meaningful relationships and friendships.

So, go ahead and make some new friends, or expand your kindness and compassion to the ones you already have.

It reduces stress

In our busy, always-on-the-go lives, we’re constantly looking for ways to reduce stress. It may be easier than we think. Helping others lets you get outside of yourself and take a break from the stressors in your own life, and this behavior can also make you better equipped to handle stressful situations. 

Affiliative behavior is any behavior that builds your relationships with others. According to a study on the effects of prosocial behavior on stress, “affiliative behavior may be an important component of coping with stress and indicate that engaging in prosocial behavior (action intended to help others) might be an effective strategy for reducing the impact of stress on emotional functioning.”

Kindness prevents illness

Inflammation in the body is associated with all sorts of health problems such as diabetes, cancer, chronic pain, obesity, and migraines. According to a study of adults aged 57-85, “volunteering manifested the strongest association with lower levels of inflammation.” Oxytocin also reduces inflammation, and even little acts of kindness can trigger oxytocin’s release. 

THE VERDICT

Spending time each day to cultivate an attitude of compassion promotes happiness and life satisfaction and helps it come more naturally to kids and adults alike:
 "Studies illustrate that kids' ability to feel for others affects their health, wealth and authentic happiness as well as their emotional, social, cognitive development and performance," explains Michele Borba, child psychologist. "Empathy activates conscience and moral reasoning, improves happiness, curbs bullying and aggression, enhances kindness and peer inclusiveness, reduces prejudice and racism, promotes heroism and moral courage and boosts relationship satisfaction."

Scientific studies have shown that spreading kindness creates a ripple effect (3-degrees of separation) spreading outward and touching others' lives.

Kindness may be the secret sauce to a healthy, happy life. So, go ahead and volunteer, help someone in need, buy someone coffee or lunch, or try one of these ideas—it may be just the pick-me-up you need.

More information
» Emma Seppala, PhD: "The Science of Compassion"

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