Can Kindness Improve Mental Health?
By Christa A. Banister
With a seemingly endless barrage of bad news on social media, television, radio and the like, it’s refreshing when something positive like Random Acts of Kindness Week steals a bit of the spotlight each February.
And while it’s probably no big secret that doing good feels nearly as rewarding for the giver as the recipient, there’s plenty of scientific research that reveals many tangible benefits of kindness — both mental and physical.
The gym is great, but practicing kindness can lead to a much healthier you, too. According to Inc., not only does kindness produce calmness-generating serotonin, the same multi-tasking neurotransmitter in the human body that helps heal wounds, but studies have also indicated that doing good leads to a longer and much happier life.1
While the superfood that’s guaranteed to help your heart, reduce anxiety and magically lower your blood pressure may vary (one week it’s steel-cut oatmeal, the next week, green juice), kindness has consistently shown to help dramatically with all of the above.1
In fact, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation reported that even witnessing acts of kindness produces the game-changing love hormone known as oxytocin, which contributes to lowering blood pressure and improving one’s overall heart health.1 Imagine what could happen if you were the one actually being kind. Now that’s a wellness program worth getting behind.
The Beauty of Small Gestures
It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of our own lives — work, family, personal goals and setbacks. But what makes kindness so significant and essential for our well-being is that giving is a selfless act that promotes a sense of gratitude for what you do have, rather than focusing on what you don’t have.
Rather than merely looking out for yourself, measuring how your life is stacking up and sharing every thought on Facebook and Instagram, kindness requires you to kick selfishness to the curb and truly see other people. As a result, practicing compassion helps people feel connected — just one of the many reasons volunteering is often recommended to people struggling with depression.2
Of course gratitude and kindness won’t “fix” depression or any mental health issue by themselves, but they are valuable tools in anyone’s arsenal.
Paying It Forward
Mother Teresa once said, “We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love,” and that quote couldn’t be more fitting when considering random acts of kindness. There’s beauty in the smallest of gestures, and doing good doesn’t even have to cost anything from a monetary perspective.
A random act of kindness could be as simple as letting a mother with her crying children go ahead of you in line at the grocery store. Or maybe it’s waving someone over who’s trying to make a difficult turn in traffic. Perhaps it’s as simple as taking a few minutes to talk to an elderly neighbor or offering to pick up medicine and supplies for a sick friend.
If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, maybe it’s making a homemade meal for exhausted new parents, offering to babysit so a couple can enjoy a much-needed night out or staying late to help a coworker finish a big project. There are countless ways to make a meaningful difference in someone’s life, and as a bonus, studies show you’re actually treating yourself by merely shifting your focus from you to someone in need.3
In a study published in Clinical Psychological Science and referenced in Medical Daily, helping others is found to be inherently connected with helping ourselves. Basically, the more selfless acts study participants performed, the greater their overall feelings of well-being became.3
Lending a hand also proved to be quite a source for stress relief. Helping others is an effective buffer for the negative effects of stress and offers a far bigger bang for the proverbial buck as it’s infinitely less expensive than, say, a week at a spa, a lavish vacation or even a brand new haircut.3
Can we say Random Acts of Kindness for the win?
1 Mautz, Scott. “Science Says ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ Week Has Astonishing Health Benefits.”, February 13, 2017.
2 Sreenivasan, Shoba and Linda E Weinberger. “Why Random Acts of Kindness Matter to Your Wellbeing.” Psychology Today, November 16, 2017.
3 Borreli, Lizette. “Random Acts of Kindness Raise Dopamine Levels and Boost Your Mood.” Medical Daily, April 26, 2016.