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The Health Benefits of Kindness

The Health Benefits of Kindness

People seem to be getting ruder everywhere you go these days, from the supermarket and health club to the doctor's office. Tempers can flare even more online, as anyone who has frequented Facebook over the last few years can attest.

Is there any cure for this rash of anger and self-absorption? And how can you handle rude people without imitating their uncouth manners?

By being kind.

More people are joining the kindness movement and helping others through volunteer work, random acts of kindness (such as paying for a stranger's coffee) and well, just being nice to people.

Kindness Helps Others - And Cheers You Up

study by the University of Oxford concluded that kindness makes you slightly happier. Kindness is no elixir for depression, but it can bring a smile to your face.

Researchers compared over 400 published papers on the relationship between kindness and happiness. They concluded that kindness does improve your disposition, but by slightly less than one per cent on a one to ten happiness scale.

A little bit of happiness is better than none, and when combined with gratitude, optimism, exercise and good food, kindness can raise your mood immeasurably.

Performing an act of kindness spurs the production of oxytocin, a chemical created by  touch and emotional warmth. Oxytocin reduces inflammation and free radicals to improve cardiovascular system.

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Kindness Affects the Vagus Nerve and Reduces Inflammation

Researchers also note the correlation between kindness and vagus nerve activity. This nerve, the body's longest cranial nerve, runs through the neck and thorax to the abdomen. The vagus nerve regulates heart rate and helps control inflammation.

study conducted by Emory College and the University of Arizona showed that performing Tibetan Buddhist loving-kindness meditation may alter the neural pathways used for compassion, making practitioners kinder and reducing inflammation by way of the vagus nerve.   

Kindness Makes Your Calmer

Being kind counteracts the effects of stress. According to a study conducted by Clinical Psychological Science, people who performed small acts of kindness during a stressful day had fewer negative feelings.

When you do something kind, even something as simple as giving to a charity or GoFundMe campaign, it's contagious. When an anonymous young man walked into a clinic and donated a kidney, one study showed, it created a “domino effect” and other people donated kidneys throughout the U.S. after the original donation was reported.

Compassion benefits mental and physical health in all kinds of situations. When feel loved and appreciated by their wives, they are less likely to have chest pains that may signal a heart attack. Patients treated by kind doctors experience reduced stress and can heal faster.

Cooperative behavior ripples through bystanders and social networks, inspiring others to perform random acts of kindness.

The Kindness Movement

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, founded in 1995, sponsors Random Act of Kindness week in early February to encourage companies, communities, organizations and individuals to help others. Their website posts kindness events and free online kindness resources.

Another website,, also publicizes acts of kindness and encourages people to help each other. It gives people ideas for random acts of kindness, such as “greet your neighbors by name”, “carry someone's shopping bags”, or “help a teacher with school supplies.”  

Here are a few ways you can be kinder in your daily life, help others and be happier.

  1. Make Connections with Others

As we rush through our daily errands and obligations, we may not have much time to socialize with others or even share a friendly greeting. Remind yourself to say hi to neighbors or co-workers and ask them how they're doing.

Send a text or email to keep in touch with friends and relatives across the country or across the globe.

Life is short and you never know when you'll see or hear from someone again. Make a schedule to keep in touch with your loved ones every week, month or even once a year. People will appreciate that you're thinking of them.  

Social connections are as important to your health as food and shelter. Relationships with others contribute to better mental and physical health and a longer life. Social ties have been shown to delay mortality in individuals with chronic medical conditions, such as coronary artery disease.   

  1. Smile

When you smile, it will make you happy and boost the mood of people around you. Studies show that when we see someone smile, it triggers changes in our brains and automatic nervous systems, and we smile and mirror that happy feeling.

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A study on facial expressions in the 1980s showed that watching sad or angry people can cause us to feel similar emotions. Steer clear of toxic or angry people and spend time with kind, smiling people to be happy, too.

  1. Volunteer

Volunteer to help others less fortunate than you by assisting at a homeless shelter, hospital or charity organization. Helping others gives you a sense of community and you'll feel better knowing you've improved someone's life.

Volunteering also puts you in touch with other kind, like-minded people and you may make some new friends.

  1. Compliment Others

The simple act of complimenting someone on a job well done, their hairstyle or an article of clothing will not only make them smile, it will make you feel good, too. Make sure your words are genuine; don't pick out something out of the blue and deliver a compliment just to do it.

  1. Perform Random Acts of Kindness, or “Pay It Forward”

Kind people also experience less stress than more selfish, high-strung types.  A study in the

Being kind doesn't mean being a pushover. It means genuinely helping others because you want to and because it's the right thing to do.

  1. You'll Feel Good When You Help Others

When you perform a kind act, the pleasure and reward center is activated, and you'll get what's known as a “helper's high.” Kindness boots the production of serotonin, which calms you down and increase happiness.

Performing a random act of kindness, even something as holding a door open for someone, can help control depression, high blood pressure, anxiety and stress.

A Canadian study showed highly anxious participants stopped avoiding social situations after performing acts of kindness for a month.

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Researchers at Harvard Business School found that spending money on others can make you happier. Study participants were given the option of giving $5 or $20 to charity, buying a gift for another person, or spending it on themselves. People who spent money on others reported feeling happier than those who spent money on themselves.

Make small, kind acts a part of your day to feel healthier.

  1. Kill ‘Em with Kindness

When someone is being rude, remain calm and remember, their tirade is not about you, it's about them. Diffuse the situation by refusing to make it your problem, too. Instead of responding to bad behavior with worse behavior, turn the tables on the agitator with kindness.

Empathize with the rude person. He or she may be tired, sick, or just having a bad day.

If you have a rude waitress, instead of snapping back at her, remain calm and say “I see it's very busy today. You must be tired.”  Remember to lead by example if you want a pleasant exchange. If you're rude to a service person, they may respond the same way to you.

Disarming a rude person with kindness works most of the time. The saying “kill them with kindness” really works.

When you speak or act out of kindness, make sure you're authentic. Be conscious of being kind instead of “putting on an act”. True kindness is consistent; it's not something you turn on when you need it. (see #4 Compliment Others).

When an angry or rude person persists, extract yourself from the situation if you can and then forget about it.

Here are 12 more specific ideas for being kinder in everyday life.

  1. Buy someone a cup of coffee.

Buy a co-worker a cup of coffee from the vending machine at work or pour them a cup from the carafe in the break room. You can also “Pay it forward” at the local coffee shop by paying for the drink of the person behind you in line.

  1. Say please and thank you.

We tend forget about these phrases when we're in a hurry, but take the time to express gratitude.  People will appreciate your good manners.

  1. Speak to a Shy Person at a Party

Shy people aren't anti-social; they're just unsure of what to say or how to approach people. Say hi and start a conversation. You may find a quiet person can be a lot more interesting than a talkative one.

  1. Give Food to an Elderly Neighbor

Seniors are usually on fixed incomes and may have a hard time making ends meet. Pack up some of your leftovers or buy an extra entrée at the restaurant and give it to your elderly neighbor.

  1. Listen to a depressed friend.

Instead of dismissing a friend who has a problem, listen to them. Talking about a problem while a friend listens can be just as helpful to a depressed or troubled person as visiting a therapist.

  1. Be more affectionate.

Show your Significant Other, friends and relatives more affection. A hug, a kiss, a handshake or a pat on the back will help produce the feel-good chemical oxytocin. (Oxytocin is activated by touch.) You'll bother feel happier, and all it takes is brief skin-to-skin contact.

Lack of affection is a big problem, as more people suffer from loneliness now than in the 1980s, according to one study. There are even professional cuddling services for people who need more affection in their everyday lives.

  1. Don't complain!

Once you stop focusing on the negative, you'll feel happier and be more inclined to perform kind acts. You don't need to be cheerful in a fake way – even if you remain neutral, you'll feel better and the people around you will appreciate your new attitude.

  1. Help a Housebound or Disabled Person

Help a disabled person across the street or offer to push their wheelchair. If you live near a housebound person, offer to pick up their medicine, do their laundry, or buy their groceries.

  1. Give spare change (or dollars) to the homeless.

Give the spare change sitting in your wallet or the bottom of your purse to a homeless person. Always be careful and only give your spare cash to people who seem peaceful and genuinely in need – homeless women, seniors and veterans, for example.

  1. Call or Skype a Friend Across the Country – or Across the Globe

Sending a text is quicker, but take the time to phone or Skype a friend or relative you haven't spoken to in awhile. They'll be happy to hear from you, and you can catch up or reminisce about old times.

  1. Donate used clothes, books or other items to charity.

Instead of throwing out old clothes or letting them fester in your closet, give them to Goodwill or another charity. People who can't afford new things (or bargain hunters) will be glad to have your hand-me-downs, and you'll free your house of clutter.

You can also donate used books or DVDs to your local library.

  1. Send a handwritten card instead of an email.

Old-fashioned thank you cards let people know you've taken more than a few seconds to express your appreciation for their gift or deed. You've actually thought about them instead of ticking their name off a “to-do” list.

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Being kinder can make you happier, but it's a small part of a natural plan to feel better and fight depression. Eating wholesome foods, exercising and practicing meditation and other calming techniques can give you a fuller, happier life.

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