- Being kind can increase feel-good chemicals in the brain including oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin.
- Studies show that people who volunteer their time have reduced anxiety levels and sleep better at night.
- Doing acts of love create an “upward spiral” of positive energy, not only in one's own life, but in the community at large.
It was the weekend after the Uvalde shootings and I was having coffee with my friend, Heather. She had a cold, and said she caught it while “doing acts of love.”
When I asked her what she meant, she told me she’d been taking flowers to a friend and got caught in a rainstorm while traveling by CitiBike. Like many of us, she was profoundly affected by the school shootings and so much negativity in the news, and her “acts of love” were her way of adding something positive to the universe.
Acts of Kindness Help Counterbalance Negativity
For most of us, it’s been a particularly difficult last couple of years. The COVID-19 pandemic kept many of us at home, cut off from friends, extended family, and coworkers, and exacerbated a growing epidemic of loneliness across the country.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 30 percent of adults reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression during the pandemic—up from 11 percent in 2019. Overdose deaths—particularly involving synthetic opiates—continue to climb. And the annual U.S. suicide rate increased 30 percent between 2000 and 2020: from 10.4 suicides per 100,000 people to 13.5. With inflation on the rise, the climate crisis, the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war, constant political arguments, and harmful messages on social media, the world feels like a crueler and more bitter place than ever before.
As individuals, we can’t overturn the massive problems facing our society and our planet, but perhaps we can take small steps to introduce some positivity into our lives and the lives of those around us. Doing so can help us and others see that, despite the bad news and hard times, none of us are alone and there are positive things to cherish in life.
The concept of “Random Acts of Kindness” is not new. The phrase was coined in 1982 by Anne Herbert who wrote the book, Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty. Nearly 40 years later, Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way Foundation” sponsors an annual #BeKind21 appeal, inviting participants to practice an Act of Kindness each day for the first 21 days in September. Their motto is simple: “The world has been heavy. Let’s lift each other up.”
Acts of Kindness Strengthen Mental Health
Acts of kindness, of course, do not just benefit the recipient of the kind act. A study by United Healthcare found that people who volunteer their time for a good cause often report better health outcomes than those who don’t. Sixty-eight percent of self-identified volunteers said volunteering makes them feel physically healthier, and 89 percent said volunteering has improved their mental well-being. This group also reported less anxiety and less trouble falling asleep than non-volunteers, as well as a greater sense of control over chronic health conditions.
A study conducted by the Harris Poll, in collaboration with the Born This Way Foundation, studied over 2000 young people ages 13-24 in the United States. The study explored how young people define kindness, the impact of kindness on mental health, and how young people use kindness to cope with ongoing crises. Most said experiencing more kindness would improve their mental wellness—be it from others (73 percent), themselves (74 percent), or observed in the world around them (71 percent).
A study from Japan asked subjects to “count” the number of kind acts they perform in one week, and then measured their subjective sense of happiness, gratitude, and achievement. The study’s findings suggest that the simple act of “counting kindnesses” may create an “upward spiral” of positive emotions and improved well-being.
Additionally, there is some evidence that being kind can actually increase levels of certain chemicals in our brain, including oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, leading to what some clinicians have called a “helper’s high.” These substances can help relieve pain, reinforce social bonds, and boost mood. Kindness is our gift to one another, to the world, and to our own best selves.
Simple Acts of Kindness You Can Do
By sharing kindness with others, we can create a ripple effect, influencing others to share their own acts of kindness with even more people and so on. There are many simple things we can do to create that “upward spiral” of positive energy, not only in our lives but in the community at large:
- Reach out to others by phone call or text message, or send a snail-mail card.
- Send a care package to someone who you may not see often, or who is going through a difficult time.
- Practice actively listening to other people. Give them your full attention and your time.
- Help out where you can. This might take the form of cooking a meal for someone, shoveling a neighbor’s sidewalk in the winter, giving a friend or family member a ride when needed, or volunteering at a food bank, library, or community garden.
- Challenge yourself to perform seven acts of kindness in the next seven days.
As Henry James said, “Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
Otake K, Shimai S, Tanaka-Matsumi J, Otsui K, Fredrickson BL. HAPPY PEOPLE BECOME HAPPIER THROUGH KINDNESS: A COUNTING KINDNESSES INTERVENTION. J Happiness Stud. 2006 Sep;7(3):361-375. doi: 10.1007/s10902-005-3650-z. PMID: 17356687; PMCID: PMC1820947.
The Science of Kindness. (2019, February 13). Cedars-Sinai. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/science-of-kindness.html