Health Benefits of a Random Act of Kindness

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According to research, spreading kindness not only helps others feel better about themselves, but can also improve the health and happiness of the giver. It’s a win-win for all.

Putting the well-being of others before our own without expecting anything in return – or what is called being altruistic – stimulates the reward centers of the brain, studies have shown. These feel-good chemicals flood our system, producing a sort of “helping high.” Volunteering, for example, has been shown to minimize stress and improve depression.

That’s not all: the same activity can also reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and even help us live longer. According to experts, one of the reasons for this is that kindness contributes to our sense of community and belonging. And that, studies have found, is a key contributor to a healthier, longer life.

Giving to others, or “prosocial spending,” has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve heart health. A study asked a group of people with high blood pressure to spend $40 on themselves, while another group of people with high blood pressure were asked to spend the money on others.

They found that those who spent money on others had lower blood pressure at the end of the six-week study. In fact, the benefits were as great as those of healthy eating and exercise.

Giving seems to ease our pain. A recent study found that people who said they would donate money to help orphans were less susceptible to an electric shock than those who refused to donate. Also, the more useful people thought their gift would be, the less pain they felt.

How could this happen? The study found that regions of the brain that respond to painful stimulation seem to be instantly turned off by the gift experience.

In the UK, researchers have found that being kind can increase happiness in as little as three days. The study divided people into three groups: the first group was to do an act of kindness each day; the second group tried a new activity; and the third group did nothing. Groups that were kind and did new things saw a significant increase in happiness.

You will experience even greater joy if you are creative with your acts of kindness. Happiness researchers Sonja Lyubomirsky and Kennon Sheldon found that people who did a variety of acts of kindness throughout the week showed greater increases in happiness than those who repeated the same activity over and over.

And here’s the good news: it seems acts of kindness can be anonymous or visible, spontaneous or planned, and can be as simple as giving someone a compliment or opening a door.

OK, you’re convinced and want to become a kinder, more helpful person. There are literally hundreds of ideas on the internet, but here are a few to get you started:

  • While driving, make room for the car that wants to enter your lane.
  • Give a sincere compliment to a family member, friend or colleague.
  • Do the same for your boss – he probably never gets compliments!
  • Let go of a grudge and tell the person you forgive them (unless telling them makes it worse).
  • Be there for a friend who is going through a tough time. Don’t try to fix it; Listen.
  • Leave your postman a thank you note.
  • Tip your delivery person.

It’s more than fair. Many people struggle economically and are often overwhelmed with balancing the needs of family, work and community. Consider being kind to yourself (in whatever way that means to you) as well as to others. We all need a break.

Want more ideas? The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, which promotes kindness year-round, has lists of benevolence ideas, organized by work, community, environment, animals, strangers, children, seniors and more.

“You make the world a better place,” says the foundation. But remember that any kindness you do to others is also a gift to yourself.

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Richard V. Johnson