The Mental Health Benefits of Being Kind
For many of us, we have multiple social interactions in a day, with strangers, co-workers, family, and friends. We navigate different personalities, different moods, and a variety of potential outcomes for each of these interactions, all of which can have an impact on us. These interactions with others can be both positive and negative and impact our mood, our outlook, and our day. A brief smile, a pleasant exchange, a hug from a loved one can make us feel light, connected, and joyful. Someone’s scowl, harsh word or gesture can sour our mood and the effects might last longer than the interaction. Turns out, there are benefits of being kind to others, other kindness on us, and kindness toward ourselves.
First, let’s define kindness. What is it? We all know what it is when we see or hear it, but when you sit down and try to put it into words, it can become a bit difficult. To help, here’s what Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as;
Kindness: “The quality or state of being kind”
Well, what does it mean to be kind?
Kind: “Of a sympathetic or helpful nature”
Now, armed with these pieces of knowledge think back to a time when someone was kind to you. How did it make you feel? Your chest got a little lighter, maybe some tension or thought that had been held in your brain/body suddenly released, and without meaning to, you were very likely smiling!
How about when you were kind to someone? Was it close to the same feeling?
Hold on to those thoughts and memories for a minute, and let yourself feel those emotions again. What you’re experiencing are the physiological and psychological effects of kindness, and both have interesting (and beneficial) side effects.
Before we delve too far into those thoughts, let’s break down why kindness is so important to us. From a biological and sociological standpoint, we humans are social animals. We hang out together in groups, we have relationships, and most of us interact with others on a daily basis. Prior to the industrial revolution, we existed in a society where large groups of people needed to band together in order to survive. This was done by sharing resources and helping one another to complete tasks such as ploughing fields or raising barns. We need kindness as a way to connect with each other to be able to work together, get along, and survive. It’s in our nature to be kind!
But what about us here in 2019? If you don’t have a barn to build, what can kindness do for you?
THE BENEFITS OF KINDNESS
1) Kindness can improve your relationships, and can make you more desirable
As hinted above, relationships (either platonic or romantic) are extremely important to us as social animals; Abraham Maslow initially proposed his Hierarchy of Needs in a 1943 paper titled “A Theory of Human Motivation.” He placed Love & Belonging as central tenant to human needs and to fulfill a Self-Actualized life. Without Love & Belonging we get stuck on our life journey.
One study’s findings suggested that kindness was more important to people than looks (Li, Halterman, Carson, Knight, & Maner, 2008). In romantic or sexual partners, men sought kind partner while they were stressed out (less so when they were calm), and women sought a kind partner regardless of their stress levels. And across all genders, while looking for a platonic partner, all participants always chose the kind person over the unkind one.
The kinder you are, the more people you’ll bring to your side.
2) Kindness makes us happier internally – TED talk Botlhale Tshetki (38 random acts of kindness)
A recent analysis (Rowland, L. Curry, O. S., 2019) of studies found that your personal happiness levels can be increased by performing Random Acts of Kindness (see above TED talk!) to any person, whether you know them or not. Even just observing acts of kindness around you can boost your happiness. Try helping folks you see wherever you are to maximize this effect, and just to practice being kind.
3) Kindness can provide health benefits – TEDxHackney, David Hamilton, biological/health benefits
To tie in with internal happiness, increased happiness (or overall mood improvement) can lead to increased endorphin release, making us happier and helping to improve our coping strategies, which makes life a bit easier to handle. Within the body, oxytocin (mood-improving hormone in your brain) is released while we are being kind; it is known as the bonding hormone that when released it connects us to others. Oxytocin also helps to lower your blood pressure, and improve your cardiovascular health (Hamilton, D., 2017) and reducing your risk for strokes and heart attacks.
4) Positive self-talk, and being kind to yourself
Really, these are two of the most important parts of kindness. If you’re not kind to yourself, how can you expect to be kind to others? Be kind to yourself. Make a mistake? Take a deep breath and try not to beat yourself up and start to identify negative self-talk. For example, instead of, “I messed up again,” try “Here’s another chance to learn.” Changing that internal voice from negative to positive isn’t easy, and won’t happen overnight.
To be honest, none of these things will happen overnight. Which brings us to our last point;
5) DON’T GIVE UP!
We all have had bad days, and those days can make it hard to be kind to ourselves, others, and even inanimate objects sometimes. BUT! These days are the most important.
Look at kindness through the analogy of a well. Everybody needs to drink water to survive, so in our backyards, we’ve all got one. Everybody’s well is very different, dug over the course of years and impacted by any life events that have occurred. Some are deep, some are shallow; some are wide-mouthed, and others so narrow you can hardly fit a glass down the top. If you feel like you’ve landed near the narrow end, have no fear; Daily practice can help you to dig your well out a little deeper and wider.
Regardless of how crazy the world feels around you, always remember that kindness, whether given or received, can make all the difference.
1) Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370–396.
2) Li, N. P., Halterman, R. A., Cason, M. J., Knight, G. P., & Maner, J. K. (2008). The stress-affiliation paradigm revisited: Do people prefer the kindness of strangers or their attractiveness? Personality and Individual Differences, 44 (2), 382-391.
3) Rowald, L., & Curry, O. S. (2019). A range of kindness activities boost happiness. Journal of Social Psychology, 159 (3), 340-343.
4) Hamilton, D. R. (2019). Kindness (Loving kindness slows ageing at the genetic level). Retrieved from http://drdavidhamilton.com/category/kindness-2/