When you help others, they benefit from your kindness. But did you know that it also makes you happier and healthier? It may sound a bit selfish to look at how being kind to others is beneficial to you personally, but the research surrounding kindness is so fascinating that we can’t ignore it. Kindness is a win-win for both the giver and receiver.
What happens when you are kind?
Our brain chemistry actually changes when we do something nice for another person. Studies show that thinking about, watching, or practicing kindness stimulates the vagus nerve, which is linked to the production of oxytocin in our brain. Oxytocin is a hormone that soothes us, making us feel calmer and happier. Kindness also triggers the production of dopamine, the hormone responsible for positive emotions and a natural high feeling.
As a result of the kindness, we experience positive health changes, including:
The kindness-stress connection
How can helping someone else reduce your stress level? A study published at UCLA and Yale University School of Medicine linked acts of kindness to stress reduction. For 14 days, a group of adults was asked to report stressful events they experienced each day from several categories (including interpersonal, work/education, home, finances, health/accident). They were also asked to report whether they participated in various helpful behaviors that day, things such as helping someone with their schoolwork or asking someone if they needed help.
Results showed that on any given day, helping others controlled the effects of stress on overall health. According to the Association for Psychological Science, study author Emily Ansell of the Yale University School of Medicine said, “Stressful days usually lead us to have a worse mood and poorer mental health, but our findings suggest that if we do small things for others, such as holding a door open for someone, we won’t feel as poorly on stressful days.”
Sandi Schwartz is a freelance writer and blogger and mother of two. She has written extensively about parenting, wellness, and environmental health.