Posted on August 21 2019
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
You may be familiar with the quote above, or maybe it is the first time you’ve read it? Either way, it likely resonates with you on a personal level.
You know deep down that kindness is a special thing. Did you know that there is scientific evidence to back that up? Recent studies have shown that kindness is not only something that benefits others, but is actually something that can benefit the person performing the kind act. That’s right, being kind to others can have a positive effect on you yourself.
In today’s blog we talk about kindness, and explore how through helping others, you can help yourself. We’ll look at positive mental and physical health outcomes that can stem from practicing acts of kindness towards others.
Kindness = Goodness
So what is kindness? Why is it so special? Well, we know inherently that kindness is helping others and experiencing empathy. But what are we missing?
Let’s ask Martin Seligman, often regarded as the founder of Positive Psychology.
In his book Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, Seligman notes that: “Kindness consists in total engagement and in the loss of consciousness”.
He argues that when engaging in acts of kindness, one can find themself in a flow state: a state of mind where one is totally engaged in the moment and free of other potentially distracting or negative thoughts. Time spent in flow has been positively associated with well being.
He and other researchers have also argued that exercising kindness is not just a surface level pleasure, but a fulfilling experience. This is because one is required to use their strengths to rise to meet a challenge, in the service of someone other than themselves. This, they argue, leads to both pride in one’s self for completing a task, and feelings of joy in helping others.
As we can see, kindness and altruism, manifested in the form of helping others, have been shown to have a variety of positive effects on both mental and physical health. Let’s explore those further.
The mental benefits of practicing kindness seem straightforward. You do good, and then you feel good. But it is a bit more fully formed than that. Practicing altruism has actually been shown to improve multiple aspects of your mental health.
One study looked at retirees older than age 65 who volunteered and those who did not. Volunteers scored notably higher in measures of satisfaction and will to live. They also showed fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. The researchers concluded, as there were no differences in demographics and background variables between the groups, that volunteer activity (an act of kindness towards others) helped explain these mental health benefits.
You can read more about that here (Source).
On top of the mental health advantages that kindness towards others can bring, there have also been indications that physical health can improve due in part to kindness.
One five year study involving 423 elderly couples is particularly telling. These couples were surveyed to see what type and level of emotional support they gave to others as well as received from others. The results were fascinating. Researchers saw a correlation between giving emotional support and longevity. See the conclusion below from a report summarizing this study.
“A total of 134 people died over the 5 years [of the study]. After adjusting for a variety of factors—including age, gender, and physical and emotional health— the researchers found an association between reduced risk of dying and giving help...” (Source)
One Thing To Avoid
So with all these awesome benefits from practicing kindness and acts of charity, why not do them all the time, no matter what?
Well, there is one thing to take into account. Helping others and engaging in acts of kindness can be helpful, so long as you are not overwhelmed by helping tasks. This can cause feelings of stress and negative emotional reactions. So don’t overwhelm yourself in pursuit of good doings!
Feel free to comment below and let us know about your personal experiences with practicing kindness, and the effects it has had on you!