It’s official, being nice to others is good for you! dr. Meg Arroll — a chartered psychologist working with Healthspan — reveals why acts of kindness can benefit our physical and mental health
‘Kindness is a gift that everyone can afford’ – especially if it benefits your health.
In a world besieged by war, climate change and a public health pandemic, acts of kindness have proved invaluable and heartwarming, and there is a growing body of research proving its many health benefits.
Kindness is linked to a greater sense of well-being. It can help reduce isolation, build self-esteem and it can also give people a different perspective, which in turn can lead to a more positive outlook on life.
people can even live longer, as kindness can also help reduce stress and improve our emotional well-being
There is also research showing that people can even live longer, as kindness can also help reduce stress and improve our emotional well-being.
There are many different ways to be kind, from volunteering at a local community organization to keeping an eye on a neighbor or guiding someone in need.
Find a cause that you are passionate about and something that you will enjoy.
It’s important not to take on too much and if we find ourselves giving too much of ourselves or have gone beyond our means, it’s probably time to take a step back. Leave enough for you – kindness has to start with yourself.
Kindness and brain health
It’s cool to be nice… the research tells us that.
Being kind to ourselves and others raises happiness levels and gives us a warm glow, but is kindness good for the brain too? And if so, are we just born friendly and if not, can we cultivate kindness and its health benefits?
Kindness – born to be nice?
Research aimed at untangling nature and nurturing generally compares identical to non-identical twins raised in different environments.
When examining kindness, we tend to look at a wide variety of behaviors within the umbrella term “prosocial behavior,” including sharing, helping, collaborating, donating, comforting, and feeling empathy for others.
A twin study that looked at this prosocial personality type found that genetics make up 69 percent of this type of behavior, showing that some people are predisposed to kindness — but more importantly, there’s room to learn these socially beneficial behaviors, too.
READ MORE: 4 Reasons You’re Feeling Down and How To Fight It
Kindness and brain plasticity
Therefore, even if we are born with a tendency to be nice, the twin studies still show that part of a person’s kindness is due to their upbringing, environment and socio-cultural influences.
Indeed, the neural pathways in our brains are malleable throughout life, not just in early childhood, which was once the prevailing view. This means that we can form new connections in the brain at any point in life, which in turn can help protect both mental and physical health.
Loneliness and isolation are important factors when it comes to neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia, but exercising our prosocial muscles with kindness allows us to connect with others and limit the harmful impact of social isolation.
Can kindness really be taught in adulthood? Evidence of Loving Kindness Meditation
One way to cultivate kindness is with a form of meditation called “loving-kindness,” which focuses on self-generated feelings of kindness, love, compassion, and benevolence toward oneself and others.
There are some fascinating results from studies that have looked at this type of self-contemplative exercise, including an increase in telomere length (a marker of biological aging) and increased vagal tone (reflecting the superior function of the vagus nerve).
Both findings have important implications for overall health and brain health, especially considering that anyone can do this type of meditation and it’s completely free.
READ MORE: 10 Ways to Improve Mental Health at Work
Simple Loving Kindness Meditation You Can Do At Home
- Start by sitting or lying down, whichever is most comfortable and convenient for you, with your eyes closed if possible.
- Then focus on your breathing, but let the inhalation and exhalation be natural – no complex breathing exercises are needed here – just focus your attention on the rhythm of your breathing.
- Next, think about someone who has been nice to you in the past — so that a smile appears on your lips when you think of that person. Think of all their individualities, those little details that make them who they are, this special person who has shown you kindness and compassion.
- Now repeat a sentence like “I wish warmth, security, good health and a life full of love and kindness,” thinking about this person all the time. You can modify this phrase to your liking, just make sure it is full of kindness and goodwill.
- Then switch places and thoughts and have your supporter say these words to you.
- Whatever emotions come to you, let them exist. You may experience a range of emotions, some of which may feel a little uncomfortable, but give them permission to come over you without judgment.
- Finally, take one last focused breath and re-enter the present by opening your eyes and/or gently moving your body.
For more information visit: mentalhealth.org.uk