Acts of Kindness: Giving for Better Health and Happiness
Giving through acts of kindness is good for your health. It is a feel good way to heal yourself and the world, one person, one animal at a time.
Acts of kindness spring from empathy, compassion, love, caring. They spring from wanting to make a positive difference in the world, to live a life of meaning, to feel good about yourself.
Health Benefits of Being Kind
You may already realize that doing nice things for others feels good, but do you know why? Functional MRI scans show that donating and volunteering light up the part of the brain called the mesolimbic system. This reward and pleasure center is the same one that activates when you take drugs, eat food and have sex. Your brain releases feel good endorphins and creates the warm glow of the "helpers high".
Throughout this post you will see responses to the question "How are you/have you been kind to others? Add your response in the comments below. Let's shift away from negativity and bring positivity and inspiration to others. This is not bragging or about ego, so let your light shine.
Mental health benefits:
Giving acts of kindness enhances your quality of life and that of others. It also:
- Reducing risk of feeling depressed. People who are coping with grief and loss bounced back more quickly after helping others.
- Improved self-esteem and feelings of fulfillment. Volunteering and helping others from the heart offers a sense of purpose which increases happiness.
- People who are altruistic at work feel more committed to their work. Study researcher Donald Moynihan said, "Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: Helping others makes us happier. Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system."
- Generosity toward your loved ones makes for happier relationships. Doing nice things for your loved ones promotes your mental well-being.
- Remembering when you were helpful and kind makes you feel selfless and willing to help others again.
Physical health benefits:
Acts of kindness and compassion from the heart benefit your longevity and your physical health.
- A 2013 study of 100 high school students with equal body mass and cholesterol levels showed that the volunteer group lowered their BMI and LDL cholesterol.
- Middle-aged and older adult volunteers showed similar results. They had less belly fat, better cholesterol levels. lower blood pressure and lower blood sugar than non-volunteers.
- Adults with heart disease who gave up to 200 hours of volunteer time in the previous year were less likely to have a heart attack and die in the following two years. According to some researchers, volunteering one-to-two hours a week provides maximum benefits. Giving more time does not confer additional health benefits. Health benefits may decrease with more time if you feel tired or stressed about it.
- Being stingy and feeling shame for your stinginess is linked with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In one experiment, the more money people kept for themselves, the more shame they felt and the higher their health-harming cortisol levels rose.
- University of Buffalo researchers found that helping others lowers risk of early death, probably because it lowers stress.
- A large survey of ethnically diverse older adults showed no correlation between receiving help and improved health. However, those who helped others enjoyed longer lives than those who did not. Older adults volunteering with two or more organizations had a 44% lower death rate over five years than non-volunteers regardless of marital status, health habits and age. The threshold for maximum benefits was 100 hours a year or two hours a week.
The key to gaining mental and physical benefits from volunteering and generosity is to give from the heart and not from a sense of obligation or guilt, which leads to health-harming stress.
A few words to those who give a lot or too much...
It is important for you to take exceptional care of yourself. Honor your limits to avoid compassion fatigue and lose the joy of serving. I see this often among caregivers, advocates and rescuers. It's sad. We need you.
Life is a balance. Yes, the need is great. Still, you will do more good overall if you pace yourself and take excellent care of yourself. It's like they say on the airplane. Put on your own oxygen mask first. The better you take care of yourself, the more you have to give.
As difficult as it may be, realize that you cannot save the world but each bit of good you do is a wonderful gift to the world. Find peace and contentment in that knowing.
And to you who give too little and want to change that...
If empathy, compassion and acts of kindness have not been your norm, don't judge yourself or rationalize. It's okay. Today is a new day. Realize that action may have to precede feeling to reawaken your natural sensitivity toward others. Tune into your inklings and look for opportunities to be a blessing to others. You will be and you may surprise yourself by how much you enjoy it and feel better about yourself and others.
Acts of Kindness-Not Just for Humans
Instances of empathy and kindness among animals and birds have been observed for years. Mammals in particular are sensitive to the distress of others and aim to help them. I'm sure it happens much more than we realize among and between species.
- Humpback whales have been seen rescuing seals destined as meals for killer whales.
- Elephants broke their chains in order to save people and pets during the tsunami. In other instances they have helped find lost people.
- My cat, not a bedtime snuggler by nature would plant himself in the crook of my arm until I fell asleep on nights he knew I was emotionally distressed.
- Our dog Duke pushed sticks toward shore for our little non-swimmer dog, despite the fact that Lou never shared and often took his toys as well.
- Countless dogs and cats have alerted their people to fires and sick children and fought off intruders and attackers to their own peril.
- Dolphins have saved human swimmers from sharks, guided stranded whales back to see, and sought help from boaters when someone was in danger.
Random Acts of Kindness
Acts of kindness can be planned and spontaneous. Both feel good and help change your corner of the world for the better. Have fun with kindness. Follow your inklings and your inner guidance.
Here are some suggestions and reminders of everyday kindness that brighten the day for both giver and receiver.
- Let that car squeeze in front of you. And maybe another. (But not too many so the driver behind you doesn’t get upset!) Likewise, let that harried shopper step in front.
- Smile at the mother with the screaming children at the mall. Better yet, baby sit for someone else so s/he can have a few hours of quiet shopping.
- Smile and offer a friendly word to the harried cashier.
- Take a break from your work or phone to play a game with your children, converse face-to-face with your spouse or play fetch with the dog.
- Give a donation to groups fundraising at your local shopping center.
- Bring your neighbors or co-workers healthy goodies.
- Visit with someone who is alone, or invite them for a meal.
- Volunteer at your local animal shelter. Bring treats, pet the kitties, walk the dogs.
- Pay the toll for the car behind you.
- Send a card or care package to soldiers overseas.
- Offer a silent blessing to people and animals you see during the day.
- Express love, gratitude and appreciation to your family, friends and those whose support you take for granted each day. Say thank you for the little things they do for you every day. Put a love note in your loved one’s lunchbox.
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Enjoy giving these gifts throughout the year. When the urge to commit a random act strikes, take yourself up on it even if it seems silly or insignificant. You might be amazed by how much you are appreciated. Best of all, you will find that by giving, you receive the greatest gift of all.
Whether you are formally volunteering or doing acts of kindness throughout the day, your mental and physical health will thank you. You will feel better about yourself and you will make a positive impact in the world. What can be better that that?
Have you committed acts of kindness? Have you received some kindness? Please share in the comments section below to inspire others and raise our collective vibration of goodness in the world.
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