We are fundamentally ‘wired’ more to be kind than to be mean. We just forget this as we grow from children into adults, with our adult-sized problems to solve and stressors to manage. As adults, we learn pretty quickly what it means to feel unhappy and carry negative emotions, but can we ever get back to that place? To that early place where being kind came more easily than being skeptical or critical of others?
Science tells us we can. Research on compassion and kindness has shown us this over the last fifteen years. A 2012 study in the journal “Emotion” studied a group of people who had significant social anxiety who were assigned to do kind acts for four weeks, not ‘random acts of kindness’; but intentional kindness assignments. Things they did on purpose. The before and after mood ratings showed an increase in positive affect, an increase in relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance.
Kindness is not just good for those with anxiety. Another study published just last year in the Journal of Social Psychology looked at whether or not people who showed kindness to others would experience positive affects themselves. This study took it a bit further and also looked at if it really mattered who the subjects were kind to. They compared acts of kindness to strong social ties, to weak social ties, novel acts of kindness and also simply observing an act of kindness. Comparison of all of these, against a group who with no acts of kindness at all, showed this: performing kindness activities for seven consecutive days increased happiness, the more the acts the greater the happiness.
From this we learn that kindness is actually one of nature’s little surprises. It may look like we are doing for someone else, but, in reality, it is our own brains that get the great benefit. Research has shown that when we dabble in kindness our brains release Serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter. Serotonin is responsible for our sense of satisfaction and well-being. Oxytocin, another neurotransmitter that is released during acts of kindness, causes the release of a chemical that expands our blood vessels, reducing blood pressure. Showing kindness to others, in any circumstance, is a big win-win!
All this to say… consider conducting your own research. Be a Citizen Scientist with your own research project. Think about how happy you are today, how happy your relationships are and write it down. For the next two weeks, take every opportunity to be kind. Take small opportunities (just smile, hold a door, let someone take your turn) and take bigger opportunities (call a friend, shop for someone, cook for someone) and don’t miss an opportunity for the whole two weeks. Will you be happier? Science says that you will and His Holiness Dalai Lama tells us it is possible …“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Andrea Mory is a human resources and management professional who resides in North Texas. She has collaborated across Texoma over the last 20 years with mental health providers and employers to develop training and education programs related to behavioral health.The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.