Kindness: Food for the Heart, Soul, and Mind

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” – Amelia Earhart

Around Christmastime, my friend went through the Chick-fil-A drive-thru and the car in front of her paid for her order. So she paid for the car behind her. The cashier told her he had never seen this act of kindness carried on so many cars in a row. She was touched and asked me, “Why do we only do stuff like this around Christmas?!” She was in the best mood for days, had a better perspective on life, stress, parenting, relationships…everything, she was more patient with her family and herself, and experienced a major calming effect due to this one act of kindness. I have thought about this example fairly often since the holidays. Why was my friend affected so positively from this simple act of kindness? I will tell you: It is because the effects of kindness are more than meets the eye. In fact, the list of positive benefits of kindness is quite long!

Beginning with the obvious, kindness makes you feel good–both when people are kind to you as well as when you are kind to others. That is because you get a dopamine hit from serving someone else, doing something kind, or receiving such selfless gestures yourself. This is the most obvious benefit to kindness, and it is pretty immediate. Kindness releases the “feel good” hormone. Doing nice things for others also boosts your serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Like exercise, altruism also releases endorphins, a phenomenon known as a “helper’s high.” So, go ahead and volunteer, help someone in need, buy someone coffee or lunch, or come up with your own idea—it may be just the pick-me-up you need! Some of the other many benefits include, but are not limited to the following: 

  1. Kindness reduces stress. In your busy, always-on-the-go life, you are likely looking pretty regularly for ways to reduce stress. It may be easier than you think!  When you are kind, your blood pressure and cortisol (stress hormone) decrease, which directly impacts stress levels and leads to major health benefits. 
  2. Kindness boosts your immune system and prevents illness.  Kindness may be the secret sauce to a healthy, happy life. Share a smile, make a donation, volunteer, or help others—then reflect on how you feel. Oxytocin, our brain’s feel-good hormone, reduces inflammation–which is linked to all kinds of diseases in the body, including diabetes, cancer, chronic pain, obesity, and migraines. Oxytocin reduces inflammation, and even little acts of kindness can trigger oxytocin’s release.  Even a little kindness boosts your body’s natural oxytocin levels. 
  3. Being kind promotes heart health. Oxytocin also expands blood vessels, which reduces blood pressure. This is why it is sometimes known as the cardioprotective hormone.  Just like damaging behaviors can be addictive, positive habits can be addictive, too! Kindness is one addictive habit you can start that will be appreciated by your heart, immune system, and more!
  4. Kindness eases anxiety. While there are several ways to reduce anxiety, such as meditation, exercise, prescription medications, and natural remedies, it turns out that being nice to others can be one of the easiest, most inexpensive ways to keep anxiety at bay. As pointed out in a study on happiness from the University of British Columbia (UBC), “social anxiety is associated with low positive affect (PA), a factor that can significantly affect psychological well-being and adaptive functioning.” (Positive affect refers to an individual’s experience of positive moods such as joy, interest, and alertness.) Researchers found that participants who engaged in kind acts displayed significant increases in PA that were sustained over the four weeks of the study! So, the next time you are feeling a little anxious, look for opportunities to help others. Even a small gesture can make a big difference!
  5. Being kind helps you build your village. Just like other emotions and characteristics like hate, love, friendliness, spite, maliciousness, humor, and generosity, kindness always comes back.  You may remember from my last post about kindness, I shared a story about a neighbor I hardly knew, showing up at my house unannounced with a cookie and a drink for no reason. Because I was so touched by her kindness, I reciprocated, and we have become quite good friends since then. Kindness comes back in a way that helps you build a network of humans who become your village. It often starts with a very simple act of kindness!
  6. Kindness gives you a sense of control.  I am sure you have someone in your life who pushes your buttons or irritates you, causing you to lose your cool or feel resentful.  At the root of that type of relationship is a lack of control or mental instability.. Deep down, you know nobody else should be able to control your mood. The best way to get in control of your emotions is to resolve to act with kindness. This enables you to regain the self-respect that comes from not letting other people rattle you.  It is such a simple principle, but I have seen it work in my life!
  7. Kindness gives you a break.  Your life is surely full of unending anxiety and stress. When you focus on the joy you can bring to someone else, you give your brain a much-needed break from figuring out your own problems. This is one of the amazing benefits of being kind!  This break is similar to the kind of brain break you get from meditation or relaxation, a good cardio session, a healthy sleep, or engaging in art. So give your brain a much needed break from your stress and problems by focusing on someone else’s happiness! 

Being kind will make you feel good. It will improve your health, ease your anxiety and stress, help you find your people, distract you from your own problems, and give you perspective on life. You need more kindness in your life! Give it. When you receive it, appreciate it. And then give it some more! Everyone needs more kindness in their lives! Now that you know the many benefits of kindness, be on the lookout for ways you can show a little kindness. Remember, the benefits of kindness go way beyond the act itself!

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.

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Melissa Cluff, MS, LMFT, CSAT

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.