Whether you believe kindness comes from nature or nurture, reinforcing the importance of being kind to other people, animals and the planet is an important lesson for many parents and educators.
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation inspires people to practice kindness and to “pass it on” to others. The organization provides free educational and community ideas, guidance and many other resources to kindness participants through its website
Fifty percent of Americans are overweight, and we spend over $40 million a year on diet programs and products to slim down and get healthy. In our society, where addiction and instant gratification rule, looking and staying young and hot is more important than maintaining good health. People are literally dying to lose weight.Humbly, I must admit, I am counted in these statistics. As a child, one of the things I learned from my father was thin = good and fat = bad. Although I was not chubby until I was subjected to these alleged facts, I was put on the Grapefruit Diet at age 10. Was that child abuse? Perhaps.
I, like billions of others, fell victim to the illusion that there is a magic pill, eating plan, hormone injection or medical procedure that will solve my weight problem and make me happy. Thin people are happier, aren’t they?
Turns out, no big surprise, that the real and lasting solution to the weight loss, health and ultimately happiness riddle is simple, free and available in unlimited supplies: kindness. Research indicates kindness to oneself and others can have a marked impact on weight loss. In one study, those who increased their efforts to be kind to everyone around them burned more white fat—the bad kind—converting it to energy and resulting in weight loss. More and more holistic health articles are popping up on the practice of kindness visualization, meditation and prayer as integral to achieving a healthy weight. The Kindness Diet is for real and it works not only for human health but in Alicia Silverstone’sbook and blog, the health of all living beings.If nothing else, it feels good to be kind. And being the good little addict and instant-gratification-oriented human that I am, if something feels good, I want more of it. Maybe I can reframe that painful childhood lesson and change thin = good to kindness = good health.
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:
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
Improves circulation and reduces high blood pressure and coronary disease
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.