The science behind kindness
” Can you be nice please?”
” Treat the other person the way you want to be treated.”
From your toddlers years on, you probably heard these phrases a thousand times.
But have you really thought about what it feels like when you do something nice to others? A sweet gesture without expecting anything in return?
One thing is certain: whether you’re smiling at a stranger, asking a friend about his stressful day, volunteering or taking care of your neighbors’ cat during their vacation, kindness does more than just help the other.
Chances are this will make you feel good too!
Lately, a lot of research is being done on kindness, mindfulness, empathy and compassion. I’ll give you a selection of the most interesting answers to the question: why is being kind so important and beneficial?
01- Kindness and ‘Caring for’ help us survive
You’ve certainly heard of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution: The strongest survive and pass on their genes. The weak become gradually extinct.
What you may not know is that Darwin was convinced that the ability to care for someone else is a crucial part of mammalian survival. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If our great-great-grandparents hadn’t taken care of their young, we wouldn’t be here right now.
More recent studies also show that they are not the dominant, fear-instilling, underhanded macho’s that are highest on the social ladder. Those places are reserved for those with the most social intelligence.
02- Your nerves are the instigators
Humans, like all mammals, are programmed to take care of others. Mammals have a certain nerve, the vagus nerve (or pneumogastric nerve) that runs from the top of your spine to your chest and collon. This nerve passes on information.
Having personal contact with someone ‘in distress’, puts your vagus nerve in action. It will create a “care and befriend” reaction (as opposed to a “fight and fly” response)
The vagus nerve ensures that you can stay calm, ready to ‘take care’. Researchers have found that this well-being nerve is also linked to our oxytocin receptors. Oxytocin is our ‘good feeling hormone’. When this is released you get a warm sense of trust and connectedness.
03- You will live longer
A study shows that charity has a clear impact on mortality rates. The risk of dying is 63% lower among people who are committed to 2 or more charities compared to the same target group who do not. Even more amazing is that, charity has a higher impact than sports or non-smoking
One possible cause of this, may be the term ‘helper’s high’. A study of well-wishers shows that they do indeed feel better physically: half of them said they were in some sort of a ‘high’, 43% felt stronger and had more energy, 28% felt warm, 22% felt more relaxed, 21% they felt self-esteem and 13% felt a reduction in their ailments.
So being nice to others is good for your own health!
04- Being friendly is profitable
It’s not just people who get better by being friendly, but also companies and brands that put kindness (e.g. for the planet) at the top of their list of values, benefit from this. A March 2019 report states that their products grow 5.6 times faster than products that don’t have that label.
And it’s been shown more than once that a friendly customer service doesn’t do any harm. On the contrary in a Harvard Business Review article, you can read that clients who had a good experience with a customer service buy 140% more than clients with worse experiences
05- It just feels good
Helping others improves mental health and gives a general better feeling, even a feeling of happiness!
Not only adults experience this. Next time your toddler acts annoying, you might be able to reverse this behavior by asking him or her to do something friendly. A 2012 study shows that preschoolers who were allowed to share their cookies with their cuddly bear are happier than the preschoolers to whom this was not suggested as an option
06- It all starts with self-pity
You already know now, that kindness and compassion helps you personally. But being sweet and gentle to yourself is the root of it all.
Most people are too critical too themselves. However, if you want to become resilient and learn from your mistakes, it is better to be kind to yourself, even showing self-compassion will help you.
You will want to get better and learn from your mistakes. And if you feel better yourself, you are more inclined to show compassion for others as well. So be kind to yourself and practice a daily portion of positive self-pep-talk. Everybody around you will be grateful!
07- The ripple effect really exists!
You may have heard of the Pay-it Forward principle. The simplest way to define “pay it forward” is that when someone does something for you, instead of paying that person back directly, you pass it on to another person instead
One of the easiest examples of this is buying a coffee for the person in line behind you at the coffee shop and then they buy a coffee for the person behind them and so on.Research shows that gestures of kindness are contagious, the ripple effect really exists. Studies by Harvard and Stanford University confirm this: if you witness an act of charity or compassion, chances are you will do the same.
08- Being friendly makes you irresistable
How much money do you spend to look good? It does feel nice when you look your best and feel the same way. But if you’re looking for a partner, an investment in friendliness might be a better (and definitely cheaper) move.
According to a study of partner’s preferences among 10,000 people in more than 33 countries, friendliness scores very high! Even higher than physical attraction and the ability to make a lot of money.