Researchers prove that KINDNESS PAYS OFF
“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
Nowadays, kindness is so rare that we must cherish every single bit of it.
Unfortunately, we often witness hatred, selfishness, crime, violence, and evil everywhere around us. The news, the papers, and even our social media feed are filled with negative headlines.
But don’t lose hope. Even though most of the media focuses on the negative aspects of life, science says kindness is just as powerful and influencing.
Michael McCullough, a psychologist from the University of California San Diego, claims that although being kind is as “bred in our bones as our anger or our lust or our grief or as our desire for revenge”. McCullough also told AP News that he believes kindness is “the main feature we take for granted”.
What being kind truly means?
There’s a theory from the Oxford anthropologist Oliver Curry, which states that the main reason humans are kind is that we are “social animals”.
“Kindness is much older than religion. It does seem to be universal. The basic reason why people are kind is that we are social animals. We’re kind because under the right circumstances we all benefit from kindness.”
This theory complements the hypothesis that we give kindness more value than any other trait or characteristic. This was proven by a study where psychologists put values into several categories and asked the participants to choose which personal feature is more important than the others. As an outcome of the research, benevolence or kindness was rated as the most valuable trait.
What’s more, quite a few experts firmly believe that kindness is exactly what separates us from animals. That’s because, through our ability to reason, we can intentionally be kind to others.
Why is empathy so important?
“Kindness begins with the understanding that we all struggle.”
– Charles Glassman
There’s a part of our brains that can recognize the lack of empathy. This was found by a 2013 study by Max Planck researchers, who also determined that people have an innate tendency to be egocentric. However, the empathy part definitely compensates for it.
This special part of the brain is the right supramarginal gyrus. When it doesn’t function properly, our ability to be empathetic is being rapidly cut down. This often happens when we need to make a quick decision, and we’re under pressure.
The right supramarginal gyrus helps us separate our perception of ourselves from others. However, this separation gets difficult when the neurons inside this special part become disrupted. That’s when we tend to subconsciously project our own feelings onto others. Likewise, at this time, we find it nearly impossible to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, which is basically the essence of empathy.
What’s interesting about this particular part of the brain is that while it gives us the ability to love and be caring, it’s also responsible for us being indifferent.
What do mama bears have to do with kindness and empathy?
To explain this contrasting phenomenon, Brain Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University, uses mother bears, The Hearty Soul reports. When mama bears are in the process of feeding their babies, these special areas of their brains get activated. However, if a stranger approaches her cubs at that time, the very same part gets triggered, and she becomes aggressive and dangerous.
It turns out the very same thing happens to humans. Hare says:
“More isolated groups are more likely to feel threatened by others and they are more likely to morally exclude, dehumanize. And that opens the door to cruelty.”
What this proves is that kindness comes naturally to us.
Does being kind make us happier?
Did you know that kindness is good for your mental health?
Kindness does affect our levels of happiness. This matter was studied in detail by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California Riverside. Prof. Lyubomirsky has discovered that when people are kind to others, they are significantly happier.
Her findings can be supported by the fact that being kind activates an area of the brain called the striatum, which, according to researchers, is responsible for that warm feeling we get from helping others.
In their study, Raymundo Báez-Mendoza and Wolfram Schultz explain that the striatum “is activated by rewards in social situations”.
Oliver Curry, who also supports this theory, believes that as humans are social animals, helping others makes them genuinely happy. In an article published in the University of Oxford, the expert says:
“This is probably because we genuinely care about others’ welfare, and because random acts of kindness are a good way of making new friends, and kick-starting supportive social relationships.”
How does kindness impact your health?
Not only being kind improves our emotional balance and boosts our happiness levels, but it also impacts our physical health.
Sonja Lyubomirsky confirms:
“Acts of kindness are very powerful.”
In one of her studies, Lyubomirsky discovered that participants noticed a decrease in pain when helping others. What’s more, she found that in people doing more acts of kindness, the genes that trigger inflammation were turned down more than in people who don’t.
Meanwhile, other researchers have found that kindhearted people experience less stress than others.
Dr. David R. Hamilton, author of the bestseller “The Little Book of Kindness”, says that when a person performs an act of kindness, their body releases the feel-good hormone, oxytocin. This little hormone makes you slightly happier, and it also lowers your blood pressure. Therefore, kindness has a “cardioprotective” effect in our bodies.
If you want to live longer, kindness might take you there!
Yes, being kind also affects our lifespan.
Christine Carter, author of “Raising Happiness”, conducted a study which revealed that people over 55 who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early. Carter claims kindness has a stronger influence over our lifespan, even than regular exercising.
As they say, in a world where you could be anything, be kind. Simple gestures as opening the door for someone, or smiling at the waiter, can make you feel better both mentally and physically. Kindness is a superpower anyone could have, as long as we open our hearts, and brains, to it.