The Ripple Effect
Why Kindness Helps Make the World a Better, Healthier Place
We all know that feeling: that sense of warmth and satisfaction we get when we do something good for someone else, without any thought for what’s in it for us.
It could be that we’ve actively listened to someone who’s carrying a burden that needs lifting; that we’ve volunteered our help; that we’ve practiced Gratitude or Loving Kindness Meditation; or simply that we’ve taken the chance to perform a random act of kindness. In the end, no matter what form our kindness takes, research tells us that it not only benefits the receiver, it’s good for us as well*.
Here’s five ways kindness provides a real boost to our health:
- It helps ease anxiety: A 2013 study conducted by researchers at British Columbia University** found that subjects who engaged in kind acts were more joyful, interested and alert, significantly improving their psychological wellbeing.
- It releases feel good hormones that help keep us happy: Acts of kindness release endorphins, leading to a condition known as ‘helpers high’. In addition, altruism also helps us produce more serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction and wellbeing. In one 2016 study***, researchers split members of the public into two groups and – for one month – asked them to either perform random acts of kindness for others, or to be kind to themselves (e.g. by purchasing something for themselves that they wanted). At the end of the month, the researchers then measured the participants’ levels of emotional, psychological and social well being against their previous baseline. Without fail, those who had carried out kind acts for others reported feeling more positive and happier than those who had simply been kind to themselves.
- It’s good for your heart and prevents other illnesses: Kindness releases the hormone oxytocin, which is known to reduce blood pressure and help strengthen the heart. It also helps reduce inflammation, which is increasingly associated with health problems like diabetes, cancer, and chronic pain. In a 2015 study conducted by researchers from Harvard and British Columbia University, a group of hypertensive people who were given $40 to spend on others (compared to another group who were told to spend it on themselves) had significantly reduced blood pressure by the end of the six-week study. In fact, the reduction was as marked as it would have been had the participants undertaken a healthy diet and exercise program!****
- It can help you live longer: This one might surprise you, but in addition to helping prevent illness like heart disease, kindness is also a key component in helping us develop strong networks of family and friends. Such networks have proven associations with living longer, healthier lives.
- It reduces stress: Being kind is one of the best ways to take us out of ourselves, providing a break from the stressors in our own lives. Couple this with the way kindness helps build relationships with others and you have a recipe for improved emotional and psychological functioning that can dramatically reduce the impact of stress.
Clearly, when it comes to our own health and wellbeing, it pays to be kind!
But the benefits of kindness extend even further. In fact, acts of kindness can have a ripple effect that helps make the world a better place. And this applies, most especially, to random acts of kindness.
One of our very favourite stories relates to an extraordinary event that took place in Winnipeg in the lead up to Christmas in 2013 - a spontaneous outbreak of kindness that happened when one driver decided to pick up the tab for the next car in line at a coffee-and-sandwich drive through. This inspired the next person in line to do the same, and the person after that, and the person after that… in total, the chain continued for 226 customers!
In the end, this story serves as a perfect example of the transformative power of kindness. It not only has the capacity to make us healthier and happier, it connects us, and – in the connection – elevates the very meaning of what it is to be human.
* In a 2017 Spanish study, workers were asked to either a) perform acts of kindness for colleagues; or b) count the number of kind acts they received from other workers. Those who were on the receiving end of kind acts reported increases in happiness, demonstrating the positive value of benevolence. Interestingly though, those who have benefited even more, not only feeling happier but experiencing a boost in job and life satisfaction, and a decrease in depression. Joseph Chancellor et al; ‘Everyday pro sociality in the workplace: The reinforcing benefits of giving, getting, and glimpsing’; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28581323/
** Lynn E Alden, Jennifer L Trew; ‘If it makes you happy: engaging in kind acts increases positive affect in socially anxious individuals’; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22642341/
*** S Katherine Nelson, Kristin Layous, Steven W Cole, Sonja Lyubomirsky; ‘Do unto others or treat yourself? The effects of prosocial and self-focused behaviour on psychological flourishing’; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27100366/
**** Ashley Whillans, Elizabeth Dunn, Gillian Sandstrom, Sally Dickerson, Ken Madden; ‘Is Spending Money on Others Good For Your Heart?’; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283724094_Is_spending_money_on_others_good_for_your_heart