Can everyday displays of kindness be an act of self-care?
As children, kindness is one of the cardinal skills that our parents instill in us. We learn to choose positive language because once you say something, you cannot take it back. We learn that compassion is never wasted because you don’t know who may need it. Most importantly, we learn that kindness is about creating the kind of environment that we want to live in because the ripple effect is endless.
Pretty big stuff for a six-year-old.
But what real benefits does kindness have on our bodies and our lives?
According to Oliver Curry et al., who compiled and compared the data from 27 different studies, performing acts of kindness has recognizable effects on our happiness and overall well-being. There may be some truth to the saying that kindness is the best medicine after all.
In investigating the motives behind these acts of kindness, the study found that they can range widely from mutualism to reciprocal altruism.
- Mutualism is kindness toward those in your community. There is a natural pull to foster positive interactions with those in your in-group. Loyalty and community spirit are examples of how this sort of kindness may manifest.
- Reciprocal altruism is kindness with the expectation that it will bring about kindness in return. This type of altruism is why we perform favors for others or offer forgiveness.
No matter the motivation, kindness is a tool for building and maintaining bonds with others around us. Intuitively, we know this. Our childhood fables warned us of the dangers of a cold heart.
But why does kindness have such an intrinsic effect on human connection?
Knowing that we have positively impacted another can fill us with a sense of purpose. It reassures us that our actions have the ability to affect lives beyond our own. Also, when we are able to put a smile on someone else’s face and we share one in return, that creates a nonverbal link, however ephemeral it may be.
Simply put, it is one of the ways that we can feel close to one another.
As naturally social beings, this makes our brains happy! 🧠
Even if we do not consciously remember, the smallest moments of positive interaction are stored in a little file with that person’s name written atop.
But the brain doesn’t stop there.
In an effort to encourage these interactions, it responds to acts of kindness by releasing endorphins such as dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. These chemicals are known to induce feelings of euphoria. What’s more, they can have long-lasting effects on the efficiency of our bodies. Studies have shown that these endorphins result in reduced physical pain, reduced anxiety, and even a healthier heart and mind.
The more meaningful and consistent the kind actions are, the stronger the effect.
Perhaps a Léon a day can keep the doctor away 🦚
Curious? You can read the following articles to learn more: