Have you ever been on the receiving end of an act of kindness? Perhaps the person in front of you at the drive-through paid for your meal. Or a friend flew in to visit you when you were having a hard time. Whatever it was, receiving kindness likely made you feel loved, comforted, and appreciated.
We all know that receiving kindness feels good, but giving kindness may be even more beneficial. Research shows that not only does practicing kindness make you feel good, but it also has numerous benefits for both your body and mind.
The best part is that kindness is a skill that can be taught; anyone can practice kindness and reap its benefits. Here’s how being kind can make you and your students happier overall.
How Kindness Affects the Mind
Research shows that practicing kindness is one of the best things you can do for your overall mental health.
One research study found that, after practicing 5 random acts of kindness a week for 6 straight weeks, people experienced a boost in their happiness levels. The participants weren’t given instructions on what specific acts of kindness to perform; any demonstration of kindness toward others improved mental health, at least temporarily.
Another study conducted by the Harvard Business School found that the more altruistic people are, the happier they tend to be.
According to the Mayo Clinic, being kind also increases important chemicals in the brain, like serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals play critical roles in giving you feelings of happiness, pleasure, and well-being. Other types of brain chemicals that can be released with more kindness are endorphins and oxycontin, which both play a role in protecting you from pain.
The release of these neurotransmitters makes your brain’s reward and pleasure centers light up ― in other words, kindness makes you feel good.
Antidepressant medication has a similar effect, and works by increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Although kindness may not be able to replace prescribed medication if you have severe depression, it may be able to help. Studies have shown that practicing kindness can help decrease depression, as well as anxiety and stress.
Witnessing kindness can also have benefits for your mind. Experts say that being a witness to acts of kindness can produce oxycontin in your brain, which can then, in turn, boost your self-esteem and make you more optimistic.
How Kindness Affects the Body
You may be surprised to learn that not only does the practice of kindness benefit the mind ― it can improve your physical health as well.
Many of the benefits of kindness for the body have to do with cortisol. Not only do “feel-good” brain chemicals go up with kindness, but levels of stress hormones can also go down. Studies have found that people who practice kindness have, on average, 23% less cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that, when released in high quantities or over a long period of time, can be very damaging to your overall health.
Because kind people have less stress (and therefore less cortisol), they enjoy benefits like lower blood pressure, fewer aches and pains, and more energy.
Studies have even found that people who practice kindness live longer. Older adults who volunteer with at least 2 organizations are 44% less likely to die early than those who don’t volunteer. Experts say that this effect of kindness and volunteering is even more powerful than the effect of exercising.
Kindness for Other People and Ourselves
Not only is it important to show kindness to other people, but we can also work toward being more kind to ourselves. Kindness toward oneself can also be called self-compassion, and it’s an important part of a complete mindfulness practice.
Try to treat yourself with the same kindness that you give to other people. For example, when a friend makes an honest mistake, you may forgive them quickly. But if you, yourself, make the same mistake, you could beat yourself up about it for much longer.
Instead, try talking to yourself in the same way you’d talk to a friend going through the same situation. Practice gratitude for the person that you are and the things you have overcome.
The health benefits of self-compassion are as numerous as the benefits of kindness for others. They include:
- Protects against trauma and other difficult life experiences
- Lowers stress and cortisol
- Increases feelings of gratitude
- Decreases symptoms of depression
Help Your Students Practice Kindness With Calm Classroom
Calm Classroom’s school-based mindfulness program includes many lessons to help your students intentionally cultivate the practice of kindness. Our team can support your school district in implementing these lessons so that all of your students can enjoy the rewards of powerful practices like self-compassion and mindfulness.
Make your school kinder. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our 2-week free trial.