4 Benefits of Kindness on our Health and Wellbeing
Does an act of kindness sometimes lead you feeling angry because you were kind to someone and you didn't receive the same kindness back?
In the past, I would’ve said yes, especially when I was kind to others and in return I experienced people taking advantage of me or treating me unkindly. However, I realised that even when I do not intend to hurt people it could still happen unintentionally, and then I understood that acting out of kindness has nothing to do with the way people treat me but everything to do with my own being. Besides that, in reality, 99% of the time when I received kindness it was when I least expected it.
The definition by the Collins dictionary says that kindness is the quality of being gentle, caring and helpful. I completely agree with the definition and I would add that kindness is all of the above without expecting something in return. When kindness comes from the heart you don’t expect something in return, expecting something in return when you do something ‘kind’ for a person redefines your act into a ‘give and take’ situation rather than genuine kindness.
Being kind to others nurtures positivity; it brings a sense of peacefulness, lightness, and fulfilment in our lives. Consider the experiences you had in the past, when you offered your seat to an elderly person on public transport, bought food for a homeless person, or gave a toy to a child. The examples of kindness are endless and reflecting on how we feel after being kind reveals a lot about the intrinsic value of kindness.
There is an abundance of beauty when you take the path of kindness, it is a path that can improve your life and set you free from negative beliefs i.e. “people just take advantage of me I should stop being kind”. So let’s look at 4 benefits of practicing kindness:
1. Kindness-based meditation can improve your health and wellbeing
We all have an inner critic that constantly tells us negative things about ourselves in regards to our body, behaviour, choices, and thoughts. The inner critic exists because as a younger self we experience painful moments involving ourselves and/or loved ones, and as we grow older we allow these memories to become a part of our reality until we are aware and decide to silence the negative inner critic within us.
Kindness-based meditation is a technique that redirects us away from unhealthy thoughts and focuses our minds towards being in the present; you are here, you get to choose who you are and the thoughts you carry in your basket. It’s just like when you walk into a shop and decide what to put in your shopping basket, instead of rotten looking fruits you put fruits that look fresh and nutritious for your body.
In essence, kindness-based meditation stimulates actions or words of a kind nature, by moving us to be in the present and to be mindful about what nourishes our being. Whether it is the food we eat, the liquids we drink, the exercises we participate in for our bodies, the relaxation time we allow ourselves, and the nourishing relationships we engage in, it is all about being kind to ourselves and the people around us.
2. Random acts of kindness towards others generates happiness
A study on kindness with 170 Japanese students and 119 Japanese women showed that increasing the number of random acts of kindness a week increased the participants’ happiness. (1)
Another study that took place in Canada shows interesting results when 655 children in 4th and 5th grade participated in an experiment on a Random Acts of Kindness curriculum (RAK). The children were split into two groups under different curriculums; one under a controlled curriculum and the other group under the RAK curriculum. The children under the RAK program experienced a significant improvement in emotional and social competence including empathy and sympathy and showed a substantial decrease in antisocial and aggressive behaviour. (2)
Other than these two studies there are many more studies that indicate we as a human race are uniquely wired for kindness and positive feelings.
3. Kindness slows ageing
People go to extreme lengths to live a longer life and to look younger for longer, and many are willing to pay a high price for age defying solutions. Yet a simple kind gesture can make a world of difference.
The ends of our DNA are protected by a casing known as telomeres and the length of our telomeres can affect the pace of our aging process. In fact, chronic stress can shorten telomeres which mean less protection for your DNA thus increasing the speed of the ageing process. Certainly, it is no secret that stress can alter our ageing process but studies strongly suggest that kindness can help reverse the negative effects that stress has on our lifespan. (3)
In a study with 37 females, fifteen women did loving kindness meditation and twenty two didn’t do any type of meditation. The women who took part in kindness meditation had longer telomeres than the group that did not do any type of meditation. (4)
In another study, caregivers that were given 14hours or more per week to care for their spouses had a decrease in their mortality rate in comparison to the group that did not provide care for their spouse. This study highlighted that the hormone oxytocin which is linked to behaviour helped decrease stress responses in the body. In other words, the kindness that the caregivers demonstrated minimised their stress levels and in effect reduced the negative impact of stress on their age. (5)
4. Kindness improves relationships
If you watched the news recently everything seems to be going terribly wrong. There are wars in many countries, an increase in poverty, reoccurring violent protests etc. It appears that human relationships have reached a critical point. On the contrary, I have experienced many people around me searching for an awakening towards connection, kindness, authenticity and other values that manifest positive attitudes and a balance that strengthens our human bonds.
Human beings are wired for kindness, it is something we experience and practice from the second we arrive on this plant and as we continue to grow. The moment we lose touch with kindness is the moment we immerse ourselves in negativity, and we begin to think dehumanizing thoughts like “why should I be kind to a stranger it does not benefit me?” or “I’ve had a bad day why should I be kind to anyone else?” These negative thoughts disconnect us from the people around us and they damage our relationships with ourselves. But when our thoughts, actions and feelings are full of kindness we strengthen and create better relationships with ourselves and with the people around us.
A study found that individuals who engaged in a few minutes of loving kindness meditation displayed an increase in their social positive emotions. In contrast to these individuals who were isolated showed a decrease in their social positive emotions. (6)
Kindness may not be the all or nothing solution to healing our relationships but it is a great starting point to building bridges. That is why it is important to remind ourselves that small gestures of kindness are valuable even if it does not fully heal a relationship. Just think about the times when we have heated arguments with a loved one, we do not resolve the argument by continuing to be angry with each other, it takes at least one person to change the tone of a heated argument by simply exhibiting a more gentle or kind manner. (7)
Being kind benefits our health whether we are kind to ourselves, to family members or to strangers. This is because kindness releases the good hormones that help us to cope with any stress response in the body, and studies show a convincing correlation between practising kindness and managing stress levels which has an influence on our ageing process.
Kindness undeniably improves our social connections and this is evident throughout our lifetimes, from the moment when we hold a new born baby we experience an unexplainable joyfulness, to the moments of feeling a deep sense of meaning and fulfilment when helping the elderly.
I sincerely hope this post inspires some kindness into the world because without a doubt kindness has a positive impact on our lives. And let’s not forget to remind ourselves that everyone is capable of mastering the art of kindness.
Yours in Health,