Have you ever felt happier after being kind to someone else? Maybe simply smiling at a passerby or holding a door open improved your outlook.
We've all heard the term "random act of kindness," but it turns out there’s nothing random about the effects of being altruistic. In fact, there’s scientific proof that being kind not only makes you happier, but it makes you healthier, too.
“Being kind releases three ‘happy hormones’: oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin,” said Mona Shah, MD, a Baptist Heart Specialists cardiologist who is certified in holistic medicine. These hormones promote positive feelings like pleasure, happiness and love.
More than just mood-boosters, the hormones actually cause positive changes to the body.
“For example, oxytocin opens up the blood vessels, which improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure,” Dr. Shah said. “This improves cardiovascular health, reduces inflammation and can also increase immunity.”
These feel-good chemicals also promote relaxation and reduce cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone. Cortisol causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. High levels can lead to a slew of health problems, including anxiety, depression, intestinal issues, fatigue and even a lowered libido.
Dr. Shah said you can control the release of happy hormones, and being kind is a great way to do that. “Learning and practicing kindness can actually rewire your brain to feel more positive and become healthier,” she said.
An act of kindness doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; it can be as simple as saying hello to a neighbor, letting someone get in front of you in line, or volunteering to support a cause you are passionate about.
“People get a ‘helper’s high’ when they help others, which translates to better health and potentially a longer life,” said Dr. Shah. “There are so many moments in life when you can choose kindness.”
Receiving kindness has the same positive effects, as does being kind to yourself.
“Treating yourself with kindness is an important part of self-care that is often overlooked,” Dr. Shah said. “It’s just as important as eating well and exercising.”
Best of all, kindness is the good kind of contagious.
“Paying it forward creates a snowball effect, and we could all use a little more kindness these days,” Dr. Shah said.