Can Kindness Impact Our Wellbeing?
First, let’s define each of these terms. Kindness means being nice or offering the best of yourself to someone whether it be a minute, second, or longer.
Wellbeing is a bit trickier to define but in the simplest terms, it means “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy” (Google Dictionary). If we look at the research side of things, the CDC has a definition of well-being that is all-inclusive.
In the most general sense, well-being is a positive outcome that is a determinant for people throughout all societies of how their lives are going (Frey & Stutzer, 2002; Andrews & Withey, 1976; Diener, 2000; Ryff & Keyes, 1995; Diener, Suh, Oishi, 1997; Veenhoven, 2008).
At a minimum, the fundamentals for well-being are adequate living conditions (e.g., housing, employment) (Frey & Stutzer, 2002; Andrews & Withey, 1976; Diener, 2000; Ryff & Keyes, 1995; Diener, Suh, Oishi, 1997; Veenhoven, 2008).
As the term “wellbeing” is used across disciplines, there is no consensus on the definition of wellbeing. At a minimum, there is an agreement across disciplines that wellbeing includes
the presence of positive emotions and moods (e.g., contentment, happiness);
the absence of negative emotions (e.g., depression, anxiety);
satisfaction with life;
(Frey & Stutzer, 2002; Andrews & Withey, 1976; Diener, 2000; Ryff & Keyes, 1995; Diener, Suh, Oishi, 1997; Veenhoven, 2008)
14 Proven Benefits
The wonderful part of random acts of kindness is that there are not only benefits to the receiver but also to the giver. When we break down the benefits, we need to first look at the emotions that are associated with random acts of kindness. An important note is that emotional responses are based on whether they are normative or non-normative distinction (Exline, 2012).
Recipients of kindness can feel loved.
Recipients and givers of kindness can experience a sense of awe when they think about profound acts of love or virtue.
Whether you are recipient or giver or merely just a witness you can feel the benefits of an increase in oxytocin. Oxytocin is commonly called the “love hormone” and this helps to lower blood pressure, improve overall heart health, increase self-esteem and optimism.
Kindness can increase the feeling of strength and energy due to helping others.
Kindness can also make one feel calmer.
Increased feelings of self-worth.
For those that volunteer their time or money for charitable causes, they often have fewer aches and pains.
Kindness is most similar to a medical anti-depressant. Kindness pushes your body to produce serotonin, which is commonly known as the “feel-good” chemical that provides healing and calming feelings.
Kindness decreases pain, by generating endorphins (the brain’s natural painkiller).
Stress, it has been shown that people that are more kind have 23% less cortisol (the stress hormone) and age slower than the average population.
Anxiety, the University of British Columbia did a study on a group of highly anxious individuals in which they performed at least 6 acts of kindness a week. After one month, there was a significant increase in positive moods, relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance in socially anxious individuals.
Depression is reduced, mortality is delayed, and well-being and good fortune are improved when we give of ourselves.
Lowering blood pressure from giving acts of kindness, creates emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure, and therefore, oxytocin is known as a “cardioprotective” hormone. It protects the heart by lowering blood pressure.
Positive Psychology and Kindness
An example of how, just by thinking, our body will react physically to these impulses is by the idea of moving our right arm. When you physically do so, new connections are created in a part of the brain called the motor cortex. Now, just thinking about moving your right arm, and imagining moving it over and over again can actually make the muscles in this same arm stronger.
Because of thoughts about the arm, cellular changes can happen. This reinforces the belief that no matter what one is thinking about, chemical reactions occur in the brain and can, therefore, lead to structural changes. We can create millions of new connections in our brains just by thinking compassionate thoughts.
The structure of our brains can be formed by our emotions. All your inspirations, motivations, loves, fears, hopes and dreams, and even your typical body language are wired into your brain in the form of connections between cells. These connections become so extensive over time that they even wire into 3-D networks, or circuits, as they are often called.
Acts of kindness, then, find their way into the chemistry and structure of our brain. If kindness becomes a habit, we can significantly alter the wiring of our brain. In fact, as we will examine later the brain is already wired for kindness. But we are always adding to and changing that wiring.
Throughout life, as we learn new things, grow, change our minds and even change our habits, new networks of new brain connections are laid down and old networks unravel.
This neuroplasticity occurs right up until the very last seconds of our lives. One of the benefits of it is that it actually allows the brain to get over injury and disease, as healthy brain cells compensate for damaged ones by sprouting new connections to take over some of their communications or pass the information through the brain by a slightly different route. (David Hamilton, Why is Kindness Good for you, Prediction August 10).
Your brain is wired in the form of connections between cells where over time all of your feelings, emotions, and body language is wired extensively into these circuits. Therefore we can change the wiring of our brain through simple acts of kindness becoming a habit in our everyday lives.
Our brains seem to be initially set up for kindness, but we alter and change that wiring by learning, growing, and modifying our minds and habits over time. As this happens, new connections are made and the ones that were already there can be reformed. This actually allows for healthy brain cells to overcome the damaged ones by passing information throughout the brain in different ways when we are injured or fallen ill.
Sources: Cassidy & Shaver, 2008; Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007; Keltner & Haidt, 2003; https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/the-science-of-kindness; Christine Carter, UC Berkeley, Greater Good Science Center; Stephen Post, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.