Being kind is genuinely good for you, so build up your ‘kindness muscle’ and both you and others will reap the rewards!
We’re stressed and in a hurry, living in a competitive world in uncertain times, so it’s not surprising that simple, day-to-day kindness can fall by the wayside. Whether it’s road rage, queue rage, loneliness behind closed doors, workplace bullying or Internet trolling, there are endless examples where the absence of kindness can make modern life a little worse for all.
Yet making the effort to be kind – to see through kinder eyes and act accordingly – brings surprising rewards to you, the recipient, and to anyone who witnesses it. It improves happiness, health, life satisfaction and connection. And it is also contagious, as we pay it back and pass it on.
1 It’s good for business
Multiple studies show that kindness in the workplace reduces staff absence, and increases job satisfaction and performance. We work harder when our company culture and co-workers are kind to us – and we afford a higher social status to the most altruistic people in the office.
2 It makes us healthier
Behaving kindly sets off a chain of physical effects. Those warm feelings that come with kindness boost oxytocin levels, which in turn produces nitric oxide, a powerful neurotransmitter that relaxes the blood vessels and improves circulation. That’s added protection against heart attacks, strokes, and other nasties.
3 It slows ageing
Stress ages us – we can see it on the outside and record the effects on the inside – but kind people produce less of the stress hormone cortisol. Perpetual kindness boosts our antioxidant response, too – who knew that a bit of goodwill could be as effective as a superfood?
4 It makes us happier
When you perform an act of kindness – whether it’s buying a present for a friend or helping an elderly stranger across the road – you experience a ‘helper’s high’. The brain’s reward centre lights up and produces ‘happy hormones’ (endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin). Studies of people doing good deeds every day show they feel stronger, more energised, and better about themselves afterwards. In the long-term, it’s also thought to help prevent depression – for instance, people who volunteer often have lower levels of depression than those who don’t.
5 It can be contagious
When you are on the receiving end of kindness – or even when you just witness one person being kind to another – it has a magical effect. You feel uplifted and temporarily lose some of the stress you’ve been carrying around that day. And you are then more likely to be kinder to someone else.
6 It can save your marriage
Kindness – along with emotional stability – is the most crucial predictor of satisfaction in a long-term relationship. Forget wild sex, excitement and grand gestures; it’s the listening ear, the small compliments and the morning cup of tea that glue couples together. One important example here is how we respond to our partner’s requests for connection, known as ‘bids’. (“Hey, look at that!” “Guess what happened today?”) If you’re lost in a Call the Midwife episode when your partner interrupts with a question, do you ignore him, act annoyed, or respond with a smattering of kindness? The University of Washington’s world-renowned Love Lab, responsible for decades of research on marriage, found that 87% of couples who responded kindly to one another’s ‘bids’ were still together in the six-year follow-up, compared with 33% of couples who didn’t!
Gabriella van Rij, founder of the #DareToBeKind campaign, is an international kindness campaigner.
Jaclyn Lindsey is co-founder and CEO of the international non-profit research organisation Kindness.org
Dr David Hamilton is a scientist and author of Why Kindness is Good for You and The Five Side Effects of Kindness (both Hay House)