One of the first principles we learn as a child is to “be kind.” It seems so simple which could be why it’s so easy to forget. Did you know that “being kind” has positive side effects for both the receiver as well as the giver? Scientific evidence proves kindness changes the brain, impacts the heart and immune system, is an antidote to depression and even slows the aging process of the body. I recently read a book The Five Side Effects of Kindness by David Hamilton that covers in-depth the science behind this. Seeing that it is the holiday season and the end of a very stressful, unorthodox year, I thought it would be a good reminder to us all on the benefits of being kind as outlined in Hamilton’s book.
Kindness makes us happier
Kindness doesn’t just make us “feel” happy, it physically changes the brain. It produces serotonin, which is exactly what some antidepressants seek to boost. It also alters the structure of the brain if what we practice is consistently, essentially ‘wiring in’ a kind nature and the happiness that comes with it.
Kindness is good for your heart (literally)
The feeling that kindness brings us actually causes the release of oxytocin in our body. This in turn triggers the release of other chemicals (nitric oxide and ANP) and the result is the actual dilation of our arteries and a reduction of blood pressure. (So cool!) Nitric Oxide also helps protect against the formation of the plaques that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Oxytocin also counters two processes that lead to hardening of arteries: oxidative stress and inflammation. So kindness protects the heart.
Kindness slows aging
There are seven processes of aging that can be slowed by kindness including muscle regeneration, reduced vagal tone, inflammation, oxidative stress, depleted nitric oxide, shortened telomeres and immunosenescence.To sum it up, the chemicals (oxytocin, nitric oxide) that are released by acts of kindness have multiple positive effects on our body’s muscular, nervous, and immune system, even our DNA.
Kindness improves relationships
Kindness is what makes friendships and relationships successful. Our friends and loved ones make bids for connection several times a day and when we respond actively and supportively, it increases the chances of our relationships standing the test of time.
Kindness is contagious!
Ordinary acts of kindness spread beyond the actual person helped. The ‘three-degree rule’ means that each time we are kind, we inspire someone else to be kind (one degree), who inspires someone else (two degrees), who inspires someone else (three degrees). It is the ‘ripple effect’ of kindness.
I continue to be fascinated by the connection between the mind and the body. This book has helped me be more intentional about my acts of kindness and a focus on gratitude. It reminds me “how beautiful the day can be when kindness touches it” (George Ellison).
Let’s all strive to find the beauty of kindness each day.