In an episode of the sitcom Friends, two of the characters have a debate based on the theories of philosopher Immanuel Kant about whether or not there is such a thing as a selfless good deed. One character makes the claim that doing good makes us feel good, so it’s selfish. In her attempt to prove him wrong, the other character even allows a bee to sting her, "so it can look cool in front of its bee friends.” Even still, she doesn’t win the argument. Doing good for others is in grained in who we are as individuals and as a society, and it produces a win-win situation.
Science, philosophers, and Judaism have long extolled the virtues of kindness, not just on the recipient, but also on the giver.
Just a few of the benefits of kindness include:
It’s good for overall health and decreases anxiety. Witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, occasionally referred to as the ‘love hormone’ which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health. Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism, which is extra helpful when we’re in anxious or shy in a social situation.
It provides energy. “About half of participants in one study reported that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth,” shared scientist Christine Carter.
It begets happiness. A 2010 Harvard Business School survey of happiness in 136 countries found that people who are altruistic—in this case, people who were generous financially, such as with charitable donations—were happiest overall. Additionally, like most medical antidepressants, kindness stimulates the production of serotonin. This feel-good chemical heals your wounds, calms you down, and makes you happy.
It helps enhances lifespan. “People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church,” Carter added.
It adds pleasure. According to research from Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up, as if you were the recipient of the good deed—not the giver. This phenomenon is called the “helper’s high.”
It reduces pain, stress, and anxiety. Engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins, the brain’s natural painkiller. Additionally, perpetually kind people have 23% less cortisol (stress hormone) and age slower than the average population, and, through a study at the University of Brisitsh Columbia, a group of highly anxious individuals performed at least six acts of kindness a week. After one month, there was a significant increase in positive moods, relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance in socially anxious individuals.
It lowers blood pressure. Committing acts of kindness lowers blood pressure. According to Dr. David R. Hamilton, acts of kindness create emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and, therefore, oxytocin is known as a “cardioprotective” hormone. It protects the heart by lowering blood pressure.
A line from Ethics of Our Fathers (1:2) states, “The world is based on three things - on learning, on the service of God, and upon acts of loving-kindness.” Each of these elements is deemed as essential, not only for what it does for us as individuals, but what it does for each other and for society as a whole, and, yet, how many of us build kindness into our daily routine? How many of us focus on kindness throughout the year and not just particular holidays or seasons?
According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the majority of charitable giving happens during the fourth quarter each year. According to Psychology Today, people are more inclined to be kind in the weeks preceding Christmas than the rest of year. According to the US Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, many choose to react to a personal tragedy by being kind to others.
But why wait until the fourth quarter or a holiday or when something bad happens? In his book From Optimism to Hope, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, “Acts of kindness never die. They linger in the memory, giving life to other acts in return.” The beauty of kindness is that anyone can be kind at any time. It costs nothing, and benefits both the giver and the receiver. And kindness perpetuates kindness. How will you be kind today?