You know that being kind to others is good for the recipient (obviously), but did you know that it’s also good for the giver, too? Yep, that’s right. Being kind to others will improve your mental, emotional and physical well-being. Here are six reasons that being kind to others makes you feel better, plus ideas for acts of kindness:
It boosts your positive emotions.
Being kind to others releases feel-good hormones like dopamine. Part of the brain’s reward system, these hormones make us feel happy and satisfied and are associated with pleasurable activities such as sex and eating good food. It also makes you more alert, focused and motivated, so being nice to a coworker could be the boost that you need to make it through a tough day at work.
It lowers your stress levels.
Helping others can create an emotional buffer that protects you from stressful events. One study of 77 adults found that those who reported higher-than-normal helping behaviors showed no dips in positive emotion or mental health, and they had lower increases in negative emotion in response to high daily stress. This is probably tied to the release of dopamine as well as the social connections that being kind creates.
It helps you build relationships.
Humans follow a behavior pattern called the norm of reciprocity, whereby we tend to reciprocate similar actions. If someone is kind to us, we’re inclined to be kind back—but if they’re mean, we’ll act in a similarly snippy way. Of course, no one follows the norm of reciprocity in all interactions, but being kind to others does increase the chances that they’ll be kind to you in return. Since it’s pretty hard to build a relationship on trading insults, this helps you shore up your friendships and acquaintances.
It reduces anxiety and depression.
Both the release of dopamine and building social connections have been shown to reduce or prevent signs of mental illness like depression and anxiety. Stress can be another trigger for these conditions, especially anxiety, so being kind helps to address them from another angle, too. While being kind to others is no substitute for going to therapy or taking necessary medications, it can be another tool in your toolbox to manage depression and anxiety.
It can improve your physical health.
Being kind isn’t just good for you physically and mentally. It’s also good for your body. In one study, writing small notes of affection to loved ones was found to lower levels of “bad” cholesterol in college students. Other research has indicated that people who devote more time to meaningfully helping others have less inflammation. Not only that, their immune system is also better able to fight off infections. Who knows? Maybe being kind to your coworkers will help you ward off that office cold!
It creates a positive feedback loop.
Being kind to others doesn’t just make both them and you feel good. Thanks to the norm of reciprocity, it also makes them more likely to be kind to you back, which makes you more likely to be kind to them again–and on and on in a cycle of positivity. Your act of kindness may have positive ripple effects that you can’t even conceive of.
At this point, you’re probably wondering about different ways to be kind to others. Here are some of our favorite ideas:
- Volunteering. Find a charitable organization that champions a cause that means a lot to you and offer to donate your time to them. Even if you’ve never volunteered before, it doesn’t take a lot of skill to hand out meals at a soup kitchen or clear trash from the local river. If you do have more professional talents you’d like to put to use, you can offer to provide them pro bono. Many nonprofits often need help in business areas such as finance and marketing.
- Give gifts. A small gift such as a scented candle or a potted plant can really make someone’s day. The gift doesn’t have to be expensive, just thoughtful. For example, give someone who loves books a candle that smells like a library. You can also make them something by hand, or simply drop a card in the mail with a heartfelt note.
- Do extra chores. Almost nobody likes doing chores, so your family, friends and coworkers are sure to appreciate it when you take care of their tasks for them. Even if it’s not your turn, offer to do the dishes, take out the trash and recycling, vacuum the floors, clean out the fridge, mow the lawn or whatever needs to be done. Or better yet, don’t tell them you’re going to do it so they get a nice surprise.
- Offer emotional support. Sometimes what your loved one needs the most is a listening ear as they vent or cry. Do your best to listen attentively to them without interrupting. Offer validation when appropriate, but otherwise just let them talk instead of butting in with advice or a relevant anecdote from your life. Your loved one probably needs to emotionally process things before they can receive that kind of information.
- Express yourself. On the flipside, sometimes we don’t communicate our love and appreciation for people enough. You know in your head that you’re thankful for your friends helping you move. But did you actually tell them? It’s very easy to say “thank you” or compliment someone, and it will mean a lot to them–so do it!
- Donate money. Of course, donating to a charitable cause or nonprofit organization is a great way to be kind. However, you don’t have to be so formal about it. For instance, you can send money via Patreon to an artist whose work you admire, or Venmo a friend who needs a little cash to tide them over until their first paycheck arrives.
Helping others will make you and others feel better–a win-win situation. If you’re feeling down, try being kind to your coworkers or helping out a friend, and odds are that it will help cheer you up as well.