It feels good to be kind. But did you know practicing an act of kindness a day can make you healthier? From reducing stress to increasing immunity and protecting your heart and brain, the physical and mental health benefits of kindness have been proven across numerous scientific studies.
Margaret Clarke, MA, LPC, BC-DMT, ACT a behavioral health therapist at Summit Health, suggests five ways you can harness the power of kindness to live a happier, healthier life.
1. Practice compassion and empathy — for yourself and others
Before you react to anything, pause… and take a deep breath. Try to walk in the other person’s shoes. Remember that peace always starts from within.
“Kindness can help us manage some of the most difficult situations in our lives,” says Ms. Clarke. “When my clients practice being kinder, whether to their spouses, children, or coworkers, they feel much better both mentally and physically.”
That’s because kindness acts like a dimmer switch in the part of your brain that oversees emotions like worry, anxiety, and fear. When we are kind, it activates mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine as well as hormones called endorphins, which contribute to our sense of well-being and can aid in pain reduction.
2. Set boundaries
Are you trying to do it all? Many of us give too much energy and resources to others and leave very little time for ourselves. It may be time to start saying the word: no. Learning to say “no” can be hard at first but it can go a long way toward reducing your stress and improving your physical well-being, such as boosting the quality of your sleep or reducing your blood pressure.
“It’s OK to say ‘no,’ especially if you’re the one everyone goes to for help,” explains Ms. Clarke. “Some people are so busy being kind to others, they forget to be kind to themselves. Ask for help more often, prioritize yourself, and remember you can say ‘no’ gently without fear of coming across as rude.”
3. Let go of anger
It can be difficult to forgive ourselves and others for past mistakes, says Ms. Clarke. However, if you take a moment to think about what contributes to your anger, it will allow you to explore a more balanced approach to what you're thinking and feeling.
“If you yelled at your kids, acknowledge what you did, take responsibility for it, and give everyone — including yourself — a break so you can move on,” she advises. “Being stuck in anger can create more suffering."
Chronic anger can be bad for our hearts, adds Ms. Clarke. Research shows losing your temper can trigger a heart attack for up to two hours after the anger has subsided.
Being kind can achieve the opposite effect: It releases a hormone called oxytocin, which decreases blood pressure, boosts your heart health, and lowers harmful inflammation in your body.
4. Volunteer your time
Find a cause you care about or help someone you know who is in need, such as an elderly neighbor. Beyond creating a sense of connection and enhancing your relationships with others, volunteering can boost your self-esteem and well-being.
Practicing kindness through acts of charity can even help you live longer. Volunteer work has been found to contribute to people’s overall longevity, notes Ms. Clarke.
5. Show kindness in your workplace
Bake a cake for your colleagues, invite your team out to lunch, or pay a genuine compliment to someone you work with. These acts may sound simple, but having other people to think about is what makes us feel most connected.
Bringing kindness into the office can reduce burnout and absenteeism. It also has a profound ripple effect, which ultimately contributes to greater workplace well-being. Studies show if you’re kind to someone, they are likely to then be kind to three to five more people.
Kindness changes everything. Remember these tips as you go about your day — and bring joy to someone else or yourself! Commit to one random act of kindness each day. Hold the door open for another person, help someone who is struggling to carry several items, or check-in on a family member, friend, or co-worker who you know is having a hard time. What act of kindness will you do today?