How Kindness Fuels Happiness

Kindness works on the brain, and on brain health, by triggering the feel-good and happy neurotransmitters like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins, and suppressing the damaging effects of cortisol created by stress.

Thinking kind thoughts, doing kind acts, or being radically and actively kind, all trigger these neurotransmitters to different degrees.

In the UK, researchers found that being kind could boost happiness in as little as three days. A 2019 study in The Journal of Social Psychology found that people who performed kindness activities for seven days saw a boost in happiness. The degree to which their happiness increased was directly tied to the number of acts of kindness they performed.

And there are plenty of things, choices, ways to thinking, that are directly connected to kindness and which can all improve mental and brain health, including:

  • Meaning and purpose.
  • Giving and helping.
  • Sympathy and empathy.
  • Gratitude and perspective.

For example, being grateful boosts serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters in the brain that give you feelings of satisfaction and well-being, and cause the pleasure/reward centers in your brain to light up

According to the Mayo Clinic, being kind produces very similar results to being grateful. Endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain killer, also can be released.” These feel-good brain chemicals are credited with causing what’s known as a “helper’s high.”

“We all seek a path to happiness,” says Dr. Waguih William IsHak, a professor of psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai. “Practicing kindness toward others is one we know works.”

And we should also be kind to ourselves. Using things like emotional regulation and meta cognition to be more aware of what and how we think, and dampen negative thoughts that can lead to things like depression and anxiety, sadness and worry, frustration and anger, fear and helplessness.

ACCORDING TO THE MAYO CLINIC

  • Kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, and improve mood.
  • It can decrease blood pressure and cortisol, a stress hormone, which directly impacts stress levels.
  • Kindness can trigger the release of oxytocin and increase your sense of connectivity with others, which can directly impact loneliness, improve low mood and enhance relationships in general.
  • Kindness can positively change your brain.
  • Endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain killer, also can be released.

ACCORDING TO CEDARS-SINAI

Acts of kindness can release hormones that contribute to your mood and overall well being. The practice is so effective it’s being formally incorporated into some types of psychotherapy.

“We all seek a path to happiness,” says Dr. Waguih William IsHak, a professor of psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai. “Practicing kindness toward others is one we know works.”

ACCORDING TO UNESCO

Research shows that training kindness can increase positive emotions, social connectedness and pro-social behaviours. It can decrease negative feelings and social biases, and even slow biological ageing.

ACCORDING TO UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS

“A lot of our medications that we use to treat depression and anxiety utilize serotonin because it does decrease feelings of depression. It decreases anxiety. It helps you feel more relaxed. So, by increasing serotonin, kindness is able to decrease feelings of depression and anxiety and increase your happiness.”

ACCORDING TO VERY WELL MIND

Part of depression and anxiety are feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Practicing random acts of kindness makes people feel helpful, optimistic, efficacious, and boosts self-esteem.”

“Our brains are connected to our bodies. There is evidence of increased oxytocin having physical benefits to health, like lowering our blood pressure and dilating blood vessels, which ultimately improves our cardiovascular health.”

“Being of service to others may also increase your longevity. A five-year study from the Association for Psychological Science found that older married adults who provided support to their spouses, friends, neighbors, and relatives had a significant reduction in mortality.”

ALTRUISTIC VS. STRATEGIC

Yet other studies have shown the important differences between altruistic kindness – being kind simply because you feel it’s the right thing to do; and strategic kindness, being kind in the expectation you’ll get something in return.

A study of studies published by Neuroimage showed that acts of altruistic kindness”light up” more parts of the brain than strategic kindness, suggesting that the brain is getting much better return, feeling a much better reward, from acts of genuine kindness.

EVEN BETTER NEWS

The better thing about kindness, and maybe the challenge, is that an order for it to work, it has to be routine.

Just like a drug, and it is working on the same part of the brain as drugs, the high of kindness, the Helper’s High, doesn’t last long.

Neuroscientists believe the high, whether it’s dopamine or oxytocin, from a single act of kindness typically doesn’t last for more than a few minutes at a time.

So in order for kindness to work, you have to practice it regularly, and that helps everyone. And you get the same amount of high each time.

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