The results are in: kindness promotes a longer and healthier life. It’s like the ultimate happy pill. But unlike drugs, addiction to kindness is good for you.
Scientific research shows that being kind is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. Performing kind acts can significantly improve mental, emotional and physical health, and even helps diminish symptoms of physical diseases and psychological disorders. In his book, The Pleasure Prescription, Dr. Paul Pearsall writes: “In concrete terms, there seems to be a biological reward for doing the right thing. It is not necessary to carry out major acts of kindness to gain the health benefit. In fact it has been found that brief, small, regular acts of kindness yield the highest health benefits.”
According to Allan Luks and Peggy Payne in their book The Healing Power of Doing Good, kindness:
- Promoted optimism
- Heightens our sense of well-being, and can even bring on a euphoric state
- Increases energy levels
- Decreases feelings of loneliness, depression and helplessness
- Increases sense of connectedness with others
- Helps achieves a greater sense of calmness and relaxation
- Enables better weight control
- Reduces symptoms of insomnia
- Strengthens the immune system
- Reduces pain
- Improves circulation and reduces high blood pressure and coronary disease
- Improves digestion
- Relieves arthritis and asthma
- Increases recovery from surgery
- Reduces cancer activity
A participant in Luks’ research relates his story: “Some months ago I was so stressed out that I could barely get four hours sleep at night, and I had all sorts of aches and pains. I had even tried antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs, but to no avail. I then found out first hand that it is love that truly heals. When I do nice things for others, I definitely feel a physical response. For me it is mostly a relaxation of muscles that I hadn’t even realized had been tensed. I can now sleep well at night, and most of my aches and pains have disappeared.”
So why does kindness make you feel so good? There are two reasons. The first is that performing acts of kindness takes our mind off our own problems. The second is that while performing an act of kindness, our bodies reward us by triggering the release of endorphins, an endogenous opioid peptide that gives us a sense of exhilaration and wellbeing, helps reduce the intensity of pain messages sent to the brain, and boosts our immune systems.
There is one important catch. In order to benefit from a kind act, we must do it without expectations. If we expect recognition and the act of kindness is not acknowledged or appreciated, we might end up feeling angry or disappointed. In this mindset, the chemical benefit is lost. The negative feelings cause cellular inflammation, which is actually damaging to our health.
Like other things that impact our health, kindness is contagious. It has a ripple effect. When people receive or observe kindness, they are inspired to be kind themselves. In effect, when we choose to do a kind deed, we are actively helping reduce world tension by starting the healing process one person at a time. It begins with us.