Editor’s note: This week, Feb. 14-20, is Random Acts of Kindness Week, an observance created by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation that is right in line with the values espoused by Attachment Parenting International (API) families, local API Leaders and volunteers who practice kindness every day by following the third of API’s Eight Principles of Parenting: Respond with Sensitivity.
Did you know that kindness is teachable?
“It’s kind of like weight training,” said Richard Davidson, PhD, psychology and psychiatry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, and founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds. “We found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”
Kindness is contagious. The positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brain of everyone who witnessed the act, improving their mood and making them significantly more likely to “pay it forward.” This means one good deed in a crowded area can create a domino effect and improve the day of dozens of people!
- The Love Hormone — Witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, occasionally referred to as the “love hormone,” which increases our self-esteem and optimism, which is extra helpful when we’re anxious or shy in a social situation.
- Energy — According to Christine Carter, PhD, Senior Fellow of the University of California-Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, about half of participants in one study reported that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others. Many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth.
- Happiness — A recent Harvard Business School survey of happiness in 136 countries found that people who are altruistic — in this case, people who were generous financially, such as with charitable donations — were happiest overall.
- Lifespan — Also according to Dr. Carter, people who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People ages 55 and older who volunteer for 2 or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factors, such as physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, and marital status. This is a stronger effect than exercising 4 times a week or going to church.
- Pleasure — According to research from Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up, as if you were the recipient of the good deed, not the giver. This phenomenon is called the “helper’s high.”
- Serotonin — Like most medical antidepressants, kindness stimulates the production of serotonin. This feel-good chemical heals your wounds, calms you down and makes you happy.
- Pain — Engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins, the brain’s natural painkiller!
- Stress — Perpetually kind people have 23% less cortisol, the “stress hormone,” and age slower than the average population.
- Anxiety — According to a study by the University of British Columbia, a group of highly anxious individuals performed at least 6 acts of kindness a week. After 1 month, there was a significant increase in positive moods, relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance in socially anxious individuals.
- Depression — According to Stephen Post, PhD, preventive medicine professor of Stony Brook (NY) University School of Medicine and founder/director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics, when we give of ourselves, everything from life satisfaction to self-realization to physical health is significantly improved. Mortality is delayed, depression is reduced, and well-being and good fortune are increased.
- Blood pressure — Committing acts of kindness lowers blood pressure. According to David R. Hamilton, PhD, science writer and founder of the Spirit Aid Foundation, acts of kindness create emotional warmth, which releases oxytocin, the “love hormone.” 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.
Imagine a world where people look out for each other, where we all pay it forward, where success is measured in selfless acts, where kindness is the philosophy of life.