As the Wellness concept gains acceptance, the health benefits of a growing list of self-care and wholistic therapies are being reported. Mindfulness, for example, has shown itself to be a powerful influence on reducing stress and nurturing well-being.
Now a familiar virtue is being added to the list: kindliness.
Acting in a charitable manner out of concern for others has long been valued in our culture. The ripple effect, however, is now coming to light as science begins a study of how being kind affects the positive moods of the person who is doing something nice for someone else. In effect, kindliness can actually make you healthier!
To be candid, I raised my eyebrows with a degree of skepticism when pondering the correlation between giving up your seat on a crowded subway and reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. But surprisingly there are several science-backed results supporting the thesis that expressions of kindness make a difference in one’s emotional and physical well-being.
At the heart of the assertion is research that identifies empathy and compassion as behavioral triggers of the pleasure centers in the brain. Simply stated, doing nice things for others has an effect similar to exercising; endorphins are released and there’s a boost to your serotonin levels, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being.
A study from the University of British Columbia measures social anxiety on a Positive Affect scale, a reference to how we experience positive moods such as joy and alertness. The researchers found that engaging in kind acts prompted significant increases in PA that were sustained over the length of the study. Imagine, simply being kind to others can be an easy, inexpensive way to keep stress at bay!
I have no reservations about the good intentions of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute. Their goal is to spread kindness and promote a more humane world by focusing on three themes: the roots of kindness, how to promote it and how to use it as a therapeutic intervention to improve mental and physical health.
What is of interest to me is the institution’s proposition that kindness can be cultivated and disseminated as a source of healing. Considering that the definition of kindness is “an act that enhances the welfare of others as an end to itself” the impact of that hypothesis, proven to be true, would be immense. Our society would not be on the brink of violent inter-group conflict if societies could be taught to choose kindness instead of cruelty!
It’s sad that we live in a world where there is a need to “teach” kindness. In the world we want to live in, ‘kindness’ should be an automatic response when we encounter folks suffering a ‘down’ day or difficult circumstances. A helping hand, a supporting smile, even the smallest act of kindness can turn a person’s day around and radiate far beyond the immediate outreach.
Maybe we should have a National Day of Kindness along side Earth Day and Mother’s Day and Labor Day. Amid chaotic world politics, violence and strife, kindness can be the antidote.