Kindness is Good For You!
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK) was founded in 1995 in the US and is celebrated every year on February 17th. The only other country that has allocated a day to kindness is New Zealand. Since 2004, New Zealand celebrates RAK day today, September 1st. Surely, Australia can get on this bandwagon, and there are some solid, scientific reasons why.
The science of kindness comes from the Positive Psychology movement which began in 1998 headed by psychologist Martin Seligman. Positive psychology is focussed on researching people who are functioning best, and finding out the factors that account for their well-being and resilience.
The outcome of this research has led to the discernment of a number of core skills and strategies that we can all use to improve our health and sense of well-being. Random acts of kindness has been shown to be one of these strategies along with being grateful, practicing mindfulness, and journaling.
The Science of Kindness
The research on the benefits of kindness is clear—being kind to others is as good for you as it is for the person on the receiving end. Contributing to others’ happiness actually leads to a boost in your own sense of well-being, physically, emotionally & in our relationships.
The benefits include:
Physical: lowers heart rate and blood pressure, increases energy
Emotional: feel calmer, happier; less anxious/depressed
Relationships: makes you feel connected to others
How does it work to improve your health and wellbeing?
The science behind kindness is detailed on www.randomactsofkindness.org/the-science-of-kindness.
Here are the highlights:
When you are kind to another person, the pleasure and reward centres of your brain are activated. Your body reacts by producing the feel-good hormones & neurotransmitters (oxytocin, serotonin & dopamine), which aid in lowering blood pressure which is good for your heart, increasing self-esteem and optimism, calming you down, and increasing your sense of connection to others.
Engaging in acts of kindness also produces endorphins— endorphins are hormone-like substances produced in the brain that have pain-relieving properties. So being kind actually leads to pain relief.
Consistently kind people have been shown to produce less cortisol (the stress hormone) and also age more slowly slower than the average population.
Everyone who witnesses a kindness towards others benefits from the act. These benefits may lead to further kindnesses towards others. So kindness is essentially contagious! Imagine the positive effect this can have on our children and on society as a whole!
The pleasure centres of our brains respond much more strongly to kindness when you get something unexpected according to research conducted by Dr. Gregory Berns, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Emory University, “So if you get a present for your birthday, that’s nice. But you’ll like it a lot more if you get a present and it’s not your birthday.” This explains why kindness is very effective when it is random. Hence, Random Acts of Kindness Day rather than just Acts of Kindness Day.
Studies have also shown that people who volunteer have less pain and live longer and those who are altruistic (via financial donations) report feeling happier.
The evidence is compelling and certainly worth celebrating!
How to Get Started
You don’t have to do a lot to reap the rewards of kindness. Small, unexpected acts of kindness is all that is needed to make someone’s day and at the same time achieve the physical, emotional and relationship benefits.
Start with these simple ideas:
· give a compliment
· write a nice text
· invite someone for a coffee or a walk
· donate a book
· comfort someone
· give up your place in line for someone
· offer to help someone with their schoolwork
· send someone flowers
· pay for the person behind you at a café or drive-thru
· help someone change a flat tire
· offer to help someone cook or clean
· take a gift to new neighbours and introduce yourself
· let people in front of you when driving
· pay for someone’s dinner
· give someone your extra shopping bags
· smile at the person serving you
It can help to think about what other people have done for you that has brightened up your day.
So Australia, let's designate a Random Acts of Kindness Day—who’s with me?
Dr. Lillian Nejad is a clinical psychologist and author, for more about her click here.