Can Kindness Help You Feel Better?

Can Kindness Help You Feel Better?

In his acclaimed book, The Hobbit , Tolkien wrote “I have found that it is the small everyday deed of ordinary folks that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

While that may be a nice sentiment, research shows it may actually be true.

Improved Mental Health

In January 2023, The Journal of Positive Psychology published a study involving people who were experiencing anxiety, depression, and stress. [1] The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups:

  1. Plan two social activities per week.
  2. Record negative thoughts and make them more positive two days per week.
  3. Perform three acts of kindness two days per week.

The researchers defined acts of kindness as “big or small acts that benefit others or make others happy, typically at some cost to the participant in terms of time or resources.”

The study lasted five weeks, and the participants were evaluated at the beginning and end of the study and then again five weeks later to see if there was a lasting effect. All three groups experienced an improvement in their anxiety, depression, and stress but the third group that performed the acts of kindness had better scores in social connection and life satisfaction, and their mental health was even more improved compared to the other groups.

Kindness Chemicals

As it turns out, being kind helps both the giver and the receiver. When someone performs an act of kindness, both the giver and the receiver produce feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. [2] Oxytocin is often referred to as “the love hormone” and is associated with bonding, trust, generosity, and calmness. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, and dopamine is associated with feelings of euphoria known as “the helper’s high.”

Kindness seems to create a chemical reaction in the brain that positively influences mood and well-being. This makes kindness more than a selfless altruistic act; it becomes a healing tool. As with any healing tool, it’s best practiced on a consistent basis to have long-lasting effects.

Building a Daily Kindness Routine

If you want to see for yourself how kindness may help you feel good, consider incorporating small acts of kindness into your daily schedule. Whether you become a volunteer, hold the door open for someone, make a regular financial donation, or simply share your lunch with a co-worker, there is a spectrum of big and small acts of kindness that you can do with regularity.

Here are some other ideas:

  • Be a good listener.
  • Express gratitude.
  • Smile and say good morning to a stranger.
  • Let a driver merge into your lane or let someone jump ahead at the grocery store.
  • Praise a co-worker, friend, or family member.
  • Give up your seat to an elderly, disabled, or pregnant person.
  • Buy someone, even a stranger, a cup of coffee.
  • Help a friend or family member with household chores.

There are lots of ways to be kind. The trick is to be consistent and intentional with your actions. According to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, “Kindness is not what you do, but who you are.” [3] And when kindness becomes a way of life, your mental health may become enhanced along the way.

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[1] Cregg DR, Cheavens JS. Healing through helping: an experimental investigation of kindness, social activities, and reappraisal as well-being interventions. The Journal of Positive Psychology . 2022;Dec 12.

[2] Cedars-Sinai Staff. The science of kindness. 2019;Feb 13.

[3] Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

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