According to her book description, it all began with a simple experiment designed to establish the relationship between high cholesterol and heart health in rabbits. The experiment found that kindness, in the form of nurturing post-doc who pet and spoke to the lab rabbits as she fed them, made the difference between a heart attack and a healthy heart. In her 2020 book, The Rabbit Effect, psychiatrist Dr. Kelli Harding explains how the rabbits were just the beginning of a much larger story. In fact, new research shows how kindness, along with love, friendship, and community can have a remarkable impact on our health and well-being.
Kindness is sometimes overplayed in popular culture and perhaps dismissed as a simple social nicety as we admonish, “be kind to one another.” Yet, kindness is a well-researched ingredient for well-being. Acts of kindness help us to feel grateful, empathetic, and compassionate, while promoting a stronger sense of belonging and community feeling.
Kindness has numerous benefits for our mental and physical health. Acts of kindness signal the brain to release serotonin and dopamine or “feel good neurotransmitters,” as well as endorphins, which in turn can decrease pain and better regulate our mood.
Research has also shown that when an individual is kind to another, the brain’s reward center is activated, resulting in a “helper’s high.” In this way, kindness can become self-reinforcing with one small act of kindness motivating further acts of kindness and inspiring those around us to act accordingly. In addition, acts of kindness have been shown to release oxytocin, or the “love hormone,” which increases self-esteem and promotes connection.
However, before we can be kind to others, we must first be kind to ourselves. In today’s fast-paced, high-pressure world, we may find ourselves skipping meals, missing breaks, neglecting our sleep, and forgetting to take time away to have fun and relax. Yet, it is nearly impossible to care for others when we have little energy left ourselves or when our needs go unmet. Therefore, it is essential to begin by showing kindness to ourselves and take time to reflect on how our own needs are being met.
Ideas for Practicing Kindness
Learn your partner’s “love language,” and then use it.
Compliment a friend or coworker.
Notice someone who seems lonely and invite them to join you.
Let someone who wants to help you, help.
Pick up trash.
Surprise someone with a small gift.
Take a half day off or give your staff a half day off.
Send a loved one a letter instead of a text.
Call a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in a while.
Engage in active listening and refrain from giving advice.
Donate to a homeless shelter or volunteer your time at a charity.
Tell others when they are appreciated.
Take cookies to your office.
Help a neighbor with groceries.
Leave a generous tip.
Help others with small chores.
Hold a door for someone.
Let someone into your lane while driving.
Pay for the order behind you in the drive thru.
Take a neighbor’s garbage bins to or from the curb.
Share silence with someone.
Why is kindness even more important today? Well, many of us may struggle with our own fears and anxiety as we transition back to a post-pandemic lifestyle. Practicing kindness towards others allows for us to focus our attention outside of ourselves, thinking of others rather than ruminating on our fears or becoming overwhelmed by inner discomfort.
Ultimately, practicing kindness during this time of transition can be an effective way to help ourselves and others as we promote community feeling and connection. In the end, kindness is an essential concept for maintaining personal health and wellbeing as well as the health and wellbeing of our communities.
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
Visit us at lindquistpsych.com
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