As human beings and social creatures, we thrive on it. Evolutionary speaking, our brain is biologically wired for kindness. And, as Darwin himself hinted, it has been an indispensable trait to our survival as a species.
The survival of the kindest
Contrary to what many might think, it is not all about the survival of the fittest. This phrase has been wrongly attributed to Darwin and it is often misunderstood. In fact, when it comes to survival, kindness pays off. According to the biologist, cooperation and sympathy are winning weapons for humanity’s evolutionary success.
As social animals, we are naturally programmed for kindness. Just think about our fellow ancestors! In challenging environments, it was the willingness to work together, share food and resources, and the creation of a good support network that ensured you can be here today reading this article.
In all respects, kindness is not only a personal quality, but also an inherited and etched instinct that we all share on a cellular level, deep within our physiology.
The science of kindness
We can then safely say that the power of kindness is not simply a metaphor, rather it has solid foundations in our brain wiring. Have you ever experienced the heartwarming rush of fulfilment that fills you up when you’ve done an act of kindness? Whether it is helping with groceries, giving a compliment or simply smiling at a stranger.
Well, this is not just a feeling in your brain, as it actually activates its biochemicals too. For instance, think about how our nervous system responds to the loving actions or words of someone we feel close to. This is because even simple things, such as a gentle touch, effectively affect us in incredibly powerful ways by firing different areas of our brain.
And there’s more…
Kindness isn’t just about doing something nice. Besides improving our satisfaction and gratification, being kind actually makes us healthier and happier.
Kindness impacts the brain directly, releasing essential hormones that have an effect on our overall well-being and mood. Different treatment methods, among which therapy and meditation, acknowledge the impact that kindness has on the human mind.
In other words, the kinder you are, the more individuals you help, and the better you will feel – mentally and physically.
The science-backed perks of kindness
Still curious? Here are five science-backed perks of kindness that beneficially affect your brain:
1. Happy hormones
When we act with kindness, our brain releases oxytocin, a hormone known as the bonding hormone. Oxytocin is known to boost our sociality, make us friendlier and enhance our empathy, while also physically reducing blood pressure.
Oxytocin is generally released when we are physically intimate or during breastfeeding, but we also tend to produce it when being kind. This, in turn, makes us feel more connected to the other person.
In addition, kindness naturally adds to this mix serotonin and dopamine, the neurotransmitters that regulate our mood and increase happiness. This has also benefits for memory, learning and brain function — what a nice cocktail, right?
2. Less stress
One crucial benefit of kindness is that it affects the brain by reducing stress. Feeling constantly stressed is challenging for both our minds and bodies, so it is fundamental to cope with it in the best possible way.
Practising kindness protects us from the negative effects of stress. According to research, prosocial behaviour has an important role when dealing with stressful situations and proved to be an effective strategy for reducing the impact of pressure and anxiety on our emotional system.
3. Longer life
Less stress, in turn, is associated with longer life. According to a study, those who practise kindness regularly have 23 per cent less cortisol (a stress hormone) and age slower than the average person.
Having a close circle of family and friends also lowers the risk of heart disease. The effects of kindness directly affect our whole being as it releases a multitude of vital hormones and neurotransmitters in our body.
Not only is it beneficial for our mental and emotional well-being, but it also helps us live longer and stay physically healthy.
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4. Pleasure boost
Research showed that when we’re kind to another, our brain’s “feel good” centres light up, improving our overall life satisfaction. This phenomenon known as the helper’s high is due to our brain releasing dopamine, the feel-good chemical.
When we are kind to others, our brain produces that enjoyable feeling of euphoria as we were experiencing kindness firsthand. In this way, the giver will feel as good as the receiver for doing something unexpectedly nice. Best of both worlds!
5. Contagious sympathy
Now, check this out: kindness can be contagious! It spreads optimism throughout both givers and receivers. Several studies have shown that we often “reciprocate” when we receive an act of kindness.
This means that if someone does something kind for us, we are more likely to do something kind for someone else. One good deed will in turn inspire another, how amazing is that?
Also, remember that smiles and laughs are catchy, due to the mirror neurons in our brains that react naturally to someone else showing an emotion. Ready to initiate a chain of good vibes?
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If not now, when?
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Used to say the 14th Dalai Lama. What makes life wonderful is working together, showing compassion and being kind in our words and actions.
The best bit? Kindness does not need to be expensive nor visible or extreme. It can be as simple as a smile, a kind word, or a small silent gesture that makes your and the other’s day a little brighter.
Take this moment to ask yourself what was your latest act of kindness. When were you last kind to someone else or just to yourself? And how did it feel?
Every once in a while, we all forget to see the bright side of things. We live in a world that can be challenging at times. Everyone runs fast, without paying much attention to random acts of kindness around.
But, eventually, it is exactly by caring for one another that we can meet tomorrow’s challenges. This means offering a hand to those who need it, including yourself. Win-win!