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The healing effects of kindness


It won’t surprise you to know that kindness will make you happy. Both kindness to shown you and the kindness you show to other people. It’s a no-brainer right? If someone in the queue in front of you buys you a coffee you’re going to be chuffed to bits. And smiles are always exchanged if somebody holds a door open for another person, or alerts someone of a dropped object, and so on. It’s human nature to receive kindness with pleasure. And it feels damn good to be able to show a little kindness to someone else too. That’s because kindness stimulates the production of serotonin – the feel-good chemical, which is a natural mood-stabiliser.

That’s all well and good. You’ve read this far and I haven’t told you anything you didn’t know already. Here’s the punchline: did you know being kind can actually increase your lifespan?

I can tell you are a little sceptical about that one, but in 2003 a study by University of Michigan psychologist Dr Stephanie Brown found that people who regularly offered practical help to others had a lower risk of dying over a five-year period than those who did not.

So how does it do that?

The emotional warmth we experience from kindness produces the hormone oxytocin, which has a significant role in the cardiovascular system. Oxytocin causes the release of nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels, which in turn reduces blood pressure. Lower blood pressure is good for the heart, naturally, so oxytocin is a “cardio-protective” hormone. Ocytocin also reduces free radicals and inflammation, which are both known to be detrimental to the cardio-vascular system.

In 2006 another study, and I’m afraid that this citation has to be taken as anecdotal, the most empathic and kind people were shown to have the lowest levels of atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries). And various studies in the past 15 years have shown that regular volunteers have better health and (among the elderly and those with HIV/AIDS) a lower mortality rate.

There’s more.

There is evidence to suggest that kindness produces endorphins (the body’s own painkiller), reduces cortisol (which in turn reduces stress and anxiety), and fends off depression (serotonin again).

So there you have it. Be kind, compliment your fellow workers, donate blood, hand out hats and gloves to people in need, mow your neighbour’s lawn, leave a kind note of inspiration on a stranger’s car, bring flowers to a nursing home and live a longer, happier life.


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