As much as giving and helping others can seem like a selfless act, there are actually benefits all round. From a personal perspective, I’ve found kindness to be truly rewarding, as much for myself as for the receiver. Being a veterinary surgeon too, I was fascinated to come across the work of Dr. David Hamilton PhD, who talks a lot about the scientific benefits of kindness, this sent me down a rabbit hole. I’d like to share a few snippets of evidence that proves that being kind can be much more than we think:
1. One survey into happiness of those in 136 countries around the globe, found that the people who were kind and generous financially (e.g. charity donations) were the happiest overall. (Harvard Business, 2010)
Kindness doesn’t have to cost money, but this particular study looked at financial kindness and charity donations. I donated last week to Vetlife as part of The Vet Student Wellbeing Week, and regularly give £1 from each copy of my “To an amazing vet” books to them.
2. Displaying kindness can release serotonin, which is considered by many to be the ‘happy hormone’ – Dr. Christine Carter, PhD.
Serotonin has a myriad of positive side effects at the right amounts, and acts of kindness can give us a boost.
3. Being kind to others can result in a ‘helper’s high’, which is where our pleasure centres in the brain light up in the same way they would if we were the recipient.(Luks, 1988)
Dual benefit? Absolutely. I don’t know if the readers are anything like me, but I do tend to get quite excited for someone to open a gift.
4. In a 2003 study, it was found that helping others protects overall health two times as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organisations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, even with removing confounding factors such as physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. The effect of this kindness was more than exercising four times a week or going to church.” (Musick, 2003)
These stats are pretty amazing, aren’t they? Volunteering time is an act of kindness that has far reaching effects. As with anything though, ensure that you give yourself enough time to recover.
5. Not just doing, but watching acts of kindness produces oxytocin, occasionally referred to as the ‘love hormone’ which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving overall cardiac health. Oxytocin can also increase self-esteem and optimism.
Get the warm-fuzzies when watching videos of kindness online? The benefits are proven. Bear this in mind when you’re performing random acts of kindness next time, there’s benefits even further reaching than for yourself or the receiver.
6. Dr. Christine Carter PhD, sociologist and psychologist, explains: “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.”
This list just keeps getting longer and longer.
7. Inherently kind people have 23% less cortisol and age more slowly than the average population. (Integrative Psychological and Behavioural Science, 1998)
We all know that cortisol is the stress hormone, so less is good. We’ll take ageing slower as a bonus benefit too.
8. A group of those marked as “high” on the anxiety scale performed at least six acts of kindness a week. After one month, there was a significant increase in positive moods, relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance. (University of British Columbia)
Personally, I find this one pretty fascinating. Acting under the identity of being a kind person quite often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Could you perform six acts of kindness this week?
9. When we give, mortality is delayed, depression is reduced and well-being and good fortune are increased. (Dr. Stephen Post, Ph.D. bioethics professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine)
Often when we start to look for the good, we find it. Adding in some kind acts can in turn create more of the same for yourself. Remember to give without expectation, as otherwise this can quickly lead to frustration. When we put the good stuff out, it does come back – but not always directly, or where we expect it from; that’s half of the fun!
10. Engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins—the brain’s natural painkiller!
Let’s use these acts to get our brains on side, where we can.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed these ten benefits of kindness, especially as scientists. Even the smallest of acts can have a positive effect, and whilst I’d never proclaim kindness to be a magic bullet, the evidence is clear that adding a little more into our lives can help in many ways.
Please remember that sometimes the most important person to be kind to is ourselves, so whilst there are a whole list of benefits of being kind to others, we cannot pour from an empty cup.
What acts of kindness could you start with this week?