by Sandi Schwartz
Why do you help others? Yes, it’s the right thing to do – but did you know that it also makes you happier and healthier? It may seem a bit selfish to look at how being kind to others is beneficial to us personally, but the recent science surrounding kindness is so fascinating that we can’t ignore it. Plus, it’s important for parents to understand why we want to instill kindness in our children so that we can provide all the reasons to them when they question it.
What Happens When We Are Kind?
Kindness is a win-win for both the giver and receiver. Our brain chemistry actually changes when we do something nice for another person. Studies show that thinking about, watching, or practicing kindness stimulates the vagus nerve, which is linked to the production of oxytocin in our brain. Oxytocin is a hormone that soothes us, making us feel calmer and happier. Kindness also triggers the production of dopamine, the hormone responsible for positive emotions and that natural high feeling we get. As a result, we experience positive health changes including:
- Increased life expectancy
- Feeling less lonely
- Stronger immune system
- Fewer aches and pains
- Decrease in stress and anxiety
- Less depression
How Kindness and Stress Are Connected
How can helping someone else reduce our stress level? A study published recently by UCLA and Yale University School of Medicine linked acts of kindness to stress reduction. For 14 days, a group of adults was asked to report stressful events they experienced each day from several categories (e.g., interpersonal, work/education, home, finance, health/accident). They were also asked to report whether they participated in various helpful behaviors (e.g., held open a door, helped with schoolwork, asked someone if they needed help) that day.
Results showed that on any given day, helping others controlled the effects of stress on overall health. Researchers concluded that volunteerism can be an important way of coping with stress. According to the Association for Psychological Science, study author Emily Ansell of the Yale University School of Medicine said, “Stressful days usually lead us to have a worse mood and poorer mental health, but our findings suggest that if we do small things for others, such as holding a door open for someone, we won’t feel as poorly on stressful days.”
Ways To Expand Kindness In Your Family’s Life
Now that you know all the amazing benefits of kindness, don’t you just want to get out there and make someone smile? There are so many simple ways you can incorporate kindness into your family’s daily routine.
- Find a local volunteer project to do as a family.
- Do random acts of kindness with your kids and talk to them about the experience. How did it make them feel? Some ideas include leaving a treat on a neighbor’s doorstep, giving a very generous tip to restaurant staff, opening a door for a stranger, and helping the elderly with groceries.
- Send a thank you note to someone who has done something special for you.
- Join a kindness challenge. Consider signing up with KindSpring. The site offers kindness challenges and an online community of people who practice small acts of kindness, share stories, and support each other.
- Bring kindness programs to your child’s school. Check out the following wonderful resources:
- Ripple Kindness Project: Provides a kindness school curriculum and an interactive community with stories and inspiration. They also offer kindness cards and other products.
- Random Acts of Kindness Foundation: Encourages the spread of kindness in schools, communities, and homes through inspiration, ideas, stories, and school curriculum.
- Kindness Matters 365: This program delivers innovative programs to support the well-being of kids and teens. Grounded in the principles of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and providing skill-building through experiential learning activities, KM365’s unique approach teaches kids to discover how to care for themselves, each other, and our world through exploring self-awareness, self-navigation, empathy, a growth mindset, and a dedication to service-learning.
Sandi Schwartz is an author, journalist, and mother of two. She has written extensively about parenting, wellness, and environmental issues. Her new book, Finding Ecohappiness: Fun Nature Activities to Help Your Kids Feel Happier and Calmer, comes out in the spring. Learn more at www.ecohappinessproject.com.