The science of kindness 🧠
Recently we celebrated ‘Random Acts of Kindness Day’. It might seem like the simplest of things, but even the smallest act of kindness has the power to change a life! What’s more, an act of kindness doesn’t just help those who are on the receiving end - it’s scientifically proven to make a positive change in the body of the person who makes it too (boosting their own mood and wellbeing).
We caught up with Martina, one of our fabulous cognitive scientists, and Grace, one of our inspiring life coaches, to get the lowdown on:
What actually happens inside our brains when we practice kindness
Why being kind is a crucial part of being human
What happens inside our brains when we’re kind?
Research shows that repeated acts of kindness reduce depression and anxiety while slowing down biological ageing. Why is this? One of the reasons is that an act of kindness stimulates the production of serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins in the brain. Kindness is also associated with lowered levels of cortisol, allowing us to reduce the impact of stress, manage our stressors better, and feel less bogged down by demands and pressures. Wow, all of this sounds great, but what does it actually mean?
With boosted serotonin, our mood is stabilised, and we engage in less negative self-thinking and are also less likely to face symptoms of depression.
With a surge of oxytocin, our relationships feel more secure, we have more trust and stronger bonds making them happier and more satisfying.
And with endorphins running around the body, we feel less pain. Endorphins literally block pain receptors throughout the body, allowing us to keep going.
An added bonus is that dopamine is released when endorphins bind to receptors in the central nervous system, the combination of which keeps us hooked on that wonderful feeling of making someone else's day.
Practising kindness is noted as one of the most direct ways to feel happier.
Research suggests that kind people tend to be more satisfied in their relationships, as well as their life in general. Interestingly it can even help us to stop engaging in self-focus so often (that is thinking about ‘me, myself and I’ so much) which is something associated with anxiety and depression).
Regular acts of kindness actually train our brains to automatically start reacting more positively to life. We’ll become more and more satisfied with our lives with every smile to a stranger, or call with a close friend. So, for a direct route to feeling happier and more content, do something kind!
Are we born to be kind?
Well, this is kind of a big question! But yes, we like to think so. Being kind is hardwired in our brains - it’s a natural attitude of humans as 'social animals'.
Kindness is in fact a pro-social behaviour that promotes positive interaction (so that we socially connect with others and support each other). It’s linked with other core human attributes such as empathy, compassion and theory of mind (our cognitive ability to take someone else’s perspective).
Putting ourselves in others’ shoes will make us better equipped to make an act of kindness, as we will have a good understanding of other’s needs. A random act of kindness will then have a domino effect in a group as it will act as a catalyst for growing empathy (as well as developing our social abilities and reinforcing the emotional circuits in our own brains).
A final thought
The hormones we get when we practice kindness are responsible for improved mood, lowered blood pressure and reduced feelings of pain - all of which improve our mental and physical health. The phrase practising ‘random acts of kindness’ uses the word ‘practice’ for an important reason. The feelings we get from doing something kind won’t last forever, and the more we do them, the more they become a habit. If we have a habit of being kind, we consistently get served healthy plates of brain-boosting goodies! On that note, we’ll leave you with a rather heartwarming quote we heard the other day:
"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” - Leo Buscaglia
Resources: https://emmaseppala.com/gift-loving-kindness-meditation/