February 17, 2022 3 min read
In an effort to instill the virtues of kindness, most people are taught from a young age to treat others as they would like to be treated themselves. But what if we told you that how the kindness we show others reflects on ourselves isn’t just a matter of virtue, but also a matter of science? Laboratories and white lab coats may not be the first things that come to mind when thinking of kindness, but the science is still clear: being kind to others has health benefits for yourself. In our last entry, we approached the topic of self-love and suggested ways to be kinder to yourself. In this one, we’ll talk about scientifically-proven ways being kind to others can benefit you as well. So read along, as we explore the science of kindness.
THE EXPERIMENT OF KINDNESS
Of course, science wouldn’t be science without experiments and studies. And the science of kindness is no exception. While there have been numerous experiments and studies conducted on the matter during the last decade, one experiment conducted by an American psychologist named Elizabeth Dunn stands out while also confirming the findings of others like it.
One morning in the streets of Vancouver, random people were handed either 5 or 20 dollars and given until 5pm that day to spend it. However, half were told to spend it on themselves while the other half were instructed to either give the money to charity or purchase a gift for someone else. The first group spent the money on things such as food or accessories for themselves. The second group spent the money on things such as toys for young relatives or offered the money to homeless people in need. Both groups were then asked by researchers to rate their mood. The amount of money they’d received made no difference, what mattered most waswhothe money was spent on, as group number two was reported to be the happiest by a wide margin.
THE CHEMICALS OF KINDNESS
These results might come as a surprise to some, but the proof can even be verified in the brain. Showing kindness to others releases several chemicals in the brain including serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine, a combination referred to in scientific circles as the “helper’s high” This phenomenon can be broken down into what it decreases and increases in the brain.
If you’re in pain, the endorphins released in your brain by kindness can act as a natural painkiller. If you’re stressed, being kind on a regular basis will lower your stress hormone by over 20% and even slow down your aging process. Don’t worry, you read that last part right. Studies found that people aged 55 and over who volunteered for good causes had a 44% lower chance of dying early. Among the reasons why is that, if you have high blood pressure, the oxytocin created by kindness will release nitric acid, dilating your blood vessels, and thus lowering your blood pressure. The oxytocin produced by kindness is considered a cardioprotective hormone, which means that being kind literally protects your heart! How wild is that?
All of these are reasons why we should let go of the notion that being kind to others is exhausting and comes at too great of a personal cost. Because, ultimately, the science is clear: the good we do for others is good we also do for ourselves. So get out there and be unafraid of being kind. Even if no one thanks you for it, your mind, body and soul always will.
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