When you think about the power of kindness, what do you think about? Maybe it’s all about what kindness can give to other people—a way to boost someone’s day, show respect, or just be human. Those are totally valid reasons to be kind. But the power of kindness we’re talking about seems a little more selfish—it’s about what being kind to others can do for you.
Before you jump on a high horse, hear us out: Research shows that being kind positively affects your own mental, and even your physical, well-being. In other words, something that benefits others can also benefit you. We see no problem with that. Read on to find out exactly how to make kindness work for you, and don’t worry, there are still plenty of reasons to be kind that completely ignore self-interest.
(And if you’re wondering whether or not any act is ever purely altruistic, you’re going to be disappointed. We’re not getting that philosophical, but if you figure it out, let us know. We’re curious too.)
The Power of Kindness: 4 Reasons to Nail Being Nice
1. Boost your own happiness and mental health
Here’s a win-win: Your acts of kindness make others happy. And that, in turn, can make you happier too. Here’s what the science says:
- What they studied: Researchers had 472 participants perform three acts of kindness a week for four weeks, either for specific other people, for the world more broadly, or for themselves.
- What they found: People who performed acts of kindness for a specific person or for the world, in general, had more positive and fewer negative emotions than a control group. Interestingly enough, there was no difference in positive or negative emotions between the people who performed acts of kindness for themselves and the control group. The same groups also showed greater psychological well-being relative to those performing self-focused actions or no acts of kindness.
- What that means for you: This study suggests that being kind to others, either people you know or in a more general sense, can boost your well-being.
- What they studied: Researchers surveyed a group of Japanese undergraduate students to determine overall happiness levels and strength of kindness. They then analyzed the relationship between happiness and kindness. In the second study, researchers asked one group of participants to keep track of their acts of kindness and provide a daily count. The other group didn’t track their kind acts.
- What they found: The studies found that happier people had a greater desire to be kind, were more likely to recognize when others were kind, and were kind toward others more often than unhappy people. They also found that people who were more aware of their kindness toward others reported being happier than those who were not asked to count their acts of kindness.
- What that means for you: Doing something nice for someone else can make you happier. And paying attention to the kindness you create can boost that happiness even higher.
2. Keep your body healthy
Maybe it seems obvious that doing something nice for others can make you happier. But what might not be as obvious is that kindness can affect your physical health too. Here’s how:
- Boosts feel-good chemicals in your brain: One study found that performing charitable behavior can help some people avoid stress-related illnesses. The theory is that charitable behavior increases a chemical in the brain called oxytocin, which helps people feel less stressed. There’s evidence that stress can make people more likely to get sick, so increasing oxytocin can help keep people healthy.
- Helps your genes work for you, rather than against you: Another study found that doing something nice for others can even make a positive impact on how your genes work. People in the study who were asked to do something nice for others expressed fewer of the genes that cause inflammation and suppress the immune system than people who did something nice for the world more generally, people who directed their kindness toward themselves, and a control group.
3. Hit your goals
Are things around you changing quickly? Not sure how to reach your goals in this new situation? Learning to adapt is a critical component of succeeding. And research shows that kindness can help you do that.
The study found that people who were kinder, as measured by two research-backed tests, were better able to adjust to new situations and rules in order to achieve tasks set by the researchers. This suggests that being kind helps people keep their goals and values aligned with what’s going on around them, and therefore gives them a better chance of meeting those goals.
4. Get more friends
If you’re looking to pump your popularity and invigorate your social scene, you might want to give kindness a shot.
Researchers asked a group of elementary school kids to do three nice things a week for others. The results? Their well-being improved, which we’d expect. But so did their popularity. The researchers found that the kind kids were also chosen by more of their classmates as people they would want to spend time with. Before you get too excited, it’s still unclear if being kind brings you more BFFs. But it can help you be a person others want to be around, so it’s still worth a shot.
How to harness the power of kindness: 1 small gesture a day
Okay, so kindness can make you happier, healthier, and more successful, all reason enough to practice more of it. So how do you start? One of the most powerful things about kindness is that it doesn’t have to entail some grand gesture. It can be something small, simple, and totally doable. Here are a few ideas you can try today:
- Hold the door open for someone with their hands full
- Compliment a stranger (within reason; don’t get too weird here)
- Send a friend a card just to say you’re thinking of them
- Let one car cut in front of you in hectic traffic
Try just one act of kindness a day, and you’ll be well on your way to reaping the benefits of kindness for yourself. And you know, helping brighten someone else’s day too.
Your turn: Witnessed the effects of the power of kindness in your own life? Tell us more in the comments.
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Author: Erica Hersh
Erica Hersh is a health writer, editor, and communications strategist based in Boston, MA. In 2014, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of being on Jeopardy. She did not, however, fulfill her dream of winning on Jeopardy.