The dreary days of winter can start to affect not only how you feel, but how you treat those around you. Extend the spirit of the holiday season into the New Year by being generous, thankful and kind to others. Everyone knows it “feels good” to do good, but did you also know that doing so is actually beneficial for both your physical and mental health?
We’ve seen a boost in random acts of kindness as people around the globe have recently been inspired by the New York City police officer who bought a pair of boots and warm socks for a shivering homeless man. When the cop’s good deed was caught on camera and went viral on the Internet, it inspired good deeds among others.
Aviator Amelia Earhart explained the phenomenon: “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” Doing good often gets paid forward and thus many can benefit from a single act.
In his book Meaning & Medicine (Bantam Books, 1991), Dr. Larry Dossey tells us, “Altruism behaves like a miracle drug … It has beneficial effects on the person doing the helping…; it benefits the person to whom the help is directed; and it can stimulate healthy responses in persons at a distance who may view it only obliquely.”
Scientific studies demonstrate the positive effects of kindness on health, including an increase in energy and longevity, stress and pain reduction, a healthier cardiovascular system, plus inner peace and overall happiness. So in other words, when you do something kind for someone, you and everyone around you reap the rewards. Here are some ways we benefit:
Get “High” From Helping
Researcher Stephen Post of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine says helping a neighbor, volunteering, or donating goods and services results in a “helper’s high” that can lower stress and help you live a longer, healthier life. My mother used to volunteer at a thrift shop and she got such joy by rescuing perfectly fine coats that were headed for the garbage and leaving them on the steps of a nearby church that had a soup kitchen. Her real “high” however came from tucking a pair of warm mittens or a scarf into the pockets of someone in need as a little extra treat.
Giving Feels Better than Taking
Researcher Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia found that those who spend money on others reported much greater happiness than those who spend it on themselves. Who doesn’t love finding just the right present for someone special in their lives knowing what joy it will bring them?
Do Your Heart Good
David R. Hamilton, Ph.D., a chemist who left a career developing cardiac and cancer drugs to do research on the health benefits of kindness and happiness, says that performing a kind act releases oxytocin — the same brain chemical that surges when you snuggle your baby. Oxytocin is known as a “cardio-protective” hormone because it protects the heart by temporarily lowering blood pressure. So, he says, “Kindness is literally good for your heart.” I love the idea of paying the toll for the person behind you or picking up the tab for a nearby diner … how surprised will they be!?
Doing something kind doesn’t have to be big or expensive. I leave my copies of Woman’s Day and People magazines in my doctor’s office when I’m there because their selection is so poor. I feel good when I see someone pick one up because I know it will make the waiting time go much faster for them. Now I know that my act of kindness is actually helping me, too.
Remember, kindness is contagious. What kindness are you doing this season and how will it make you feel? Tell us about it.