Acts of kindness will make you happier, healthier and have the power to change the world
Ahead of World Kindness Day on November 13, JOANNE SAVAGE considers how altruism could save us all
We live in a world that draws us into a dog-eat-dog neoliberal capitalist philosophy wherein profit is the goal and unbridled personal ambition to reach the top is glorified.
But wisdom teaches us that, morality, certainly Christian morality, is predicated upon kindness, wherein we put the needs of others before our own; go to the Bible and altruism is consistently conceptualised as the cornerstone of righteous behaviour.
Certainly Jesus was a fan. He continually associated loving your neighbour as yourself with the display of kindness, and repeatedly showed that putting the needs of others before our own was the path to salvation: ‘Do unto others as you would be done by’ is surely the pith of what he preached.
Throughout history, many great thinkers have inveighed us to be kind if we want to live in a better world. Indeed they have suggested that the ability to be kind is an indicator not only of enlightenment but also the path to true happiness.
“What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?,” Asked the French philosopher Rousseau; for Albert Einstein, “kindness, beauty and truth” lit up the world; “If you want to be happy, practice compassion,” said the Dalai Lama; “When words are both true and kind, they change the world,” said the Buddha.
The novelist Henry James said three things in human life are important: “The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third, is to be kind.”
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” added Gandhi.
So, how do we change the world? Well, possibly with one random act of kindness at a time.
A great many people agree, and as we approach World Kindness Day on November 13, it’s worth considering how kindness might be the solution to many of humanity’s problems. Certainly if we were all kind, we would have no need for wars of aggression or a hierarchical society predicated upon unfair power structures that necessitate exploitation and dominion of one group over others; any captialist hierarchy is structured upon an impoverished underclass at its base so that the elite at the apex can dominate while quaffing champagne on private yachts.
One might ask where the kindness lies in cutting the £20 uplift in universal credit, plunging thousands of families into poverty while the rich secrete money in off-shore accounts and expend money on ludicrous fripperies like gold-plated toilet seats, caviar and facelifts, as children across the world go hungry. Such obscenities make it clear that we do not live in a world that has made kindness its first imperative.
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK) is a small nonprofit organisation based in Colorado and founded in the 1990s that invests time, expertise and resources into its mission, ‘Make Kindness the Norm’ (visit www.randomactsofkindness.org). It aims to promote kindness in schools, in workplaces and in communities by emphasising how it uplifts people, makes them happier, healthier, improves wellbeing and could change the way we live for the better.
“There are scientifically proven benefits of being kind,” said one of its ambassadors, assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University, Jamil Zaki. “The positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brain of everyone who witnessed the act, improving their mood and making them significantly more likely to “pay it forward.” This means one good deed in a crowded area can create a domino effect and improve the day of dozens of people.”
Further, studies show that witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, occasionally referred to as the ‘love hormone’ which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health. Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism, which is extra helpful when we’re anxious or shy in a social situation.
“About half of participants in one study reported that they felt stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth,” observed Christine Carter, from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Centre.
A 2010 Harvard Business School survey of happiness in 136 countries found that people who are altruistic — in this case, people who were generous financially, such as with charitable donations, were happiest overall; giving something back makes us feel better about ourselves.
In fact, “ giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease,” says author Christine Carter in her book Raising Happiness. “People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organisations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.”
According to research from Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centres light up, as if you were the recipient of the good deed — not the giver. This phenomenon is called the “helper’s high.”
And like most medical antidepressants, kindness stimulates the production of serotonin. This feel-good chemical heals your wounds, calms you down, and makes you happy.
Engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins, which are the brain’s natural painkiller. So being kind can not only grant you longevity but also reduce the brain’s perception of pain,
And kindness helps redress stress: perpetually kind people have 23% less cortisol (the stress hormone) and age slower than the average population, according to research from the Integrative Psychological and Behavioural Science journal published in 1998. So too can kindness reduce anxiety, depression and high blood pressure, according to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
A group of highly anxious individuals performed at least six acts of kindness a week. After one month, there was a significant increase in positive moods, relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance in socially anxious individuals - according to one University of British Columbia Study.
Meanwhile, Stephen Post of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine found that when we give of ourselves, everything from life satisfaction to self-realisation and physical health is significantly improved.
World Kindness Day, which takes place annually on November 13, is an international holiday that was conceived in 1998, to promote kindness throughout the world and is observed as part of the World Kindness Movement. It is observed in many countries including the US, Canada, Japan, Australia and here in the UK.
The day presents us with the opportunity to reflect upon one of the most vital unifying human principles .
In 2019, the World Kindness Movement was registered as an official NGO under Swiss law, but the history of the group stretches back to a Tokyo-based convention in 1997. An array of institutions from various countries had been assembled at this conference because of their dedication to championing kindness in society. The World Kindness Movement formed as a result. The purpose of World Kindness Day is “to highlight good deeds in the community focusing on the common thread of kindness which binds us.”
While, at present, the day is one of unofficial observance, it remains the hope of the movement to attain official recognition status by the United Nations.
So, above all things, try being kind, It’s revolutionary.