Want a long and happy life? Practice kindness!

(Even when Cultural Stress makes it more difficult)

November 13 was World Kindness Day, a day established in 1998 as part of the World Kindness Movement. World Kindness Day is observed in many countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, India, Italy, and the U.A.E. Its purpose is to build a kinder and more compassionate world by “focusing attention on the positive power and the common thread of kindness which binds us.”

Perhaps it’s obvious that living in a kinder, more compassionate world would be better for everyone, and that extending kindness to others certainly benefits the recipients. It may be less apparent, however, that kindness is not only good for other people; it’s good for YOU!

Research shows that being kind to others—indeed, even witnessing acts of kindness by others—improves our mood, boosts our immune system, reduces our blood pressure, lifts our self-esteem, and slows the effects of aging.

Kindness leads to a longer, happier life in two ways. One is emotional: kindness eases stress and anxiety; helps recipients feel safe; builds a sense of community; and reinforces the kindness practitioner’s sense of purpose. Purpose—a reason for living—is one of the core lifestyle habits of the longest-living people in the world. Purpose helps us feel useful and connected, which makes us happy, and happiness is associated with better health outcomes. As it turns out, the quickest way to make yourself happy is to help someone else!

The other way that kindness leads to longevity is biological: Both practicing and witnessing acts of kindness stimulate the production of oxytocin, known as the “love hormone.” Oxytocin causes the blood vessels to expand, thereby reducing blood pressure. (It also increases our sense of connection and trust, helping us feel safe.)

Kindness also triggers the release of the endorphins serotonin and dopamine, which decrease anxiety, help us relax, and give us a sense of satisfaction that can even lead to euphoria. “Runner’s high” is the result of endorphins, but you can also get “helper’s high” from the same biochemicals.

All of these feel-good emotions displace negative feelings, such as anger, anxiety, fear, hate, resentment, and worry, which trigger the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. Chronic levels of circulating cortisol lead to chronic low-grade inflammation, which over time leads to all of the degenerative diseases we associate with aging. Kindness, on the other hand, actually decreases inflammatory markers and strengthens your immune system.

So, you can either bathe your cells in hormones that lead to health and happiness or in hormones that lead to stress and disease.

Another great thing about kindness is that it’s contagious. When we witness someone else being kind, it inspires us to be kind, as well. This improves our mood, which increases the likelihood of our spreading kindness to others.

With all of these benefits that come simply from being kind, why are we not kinder more often?

Two words: Cultural Stress.

When we’re stressed, we have less capacity to be kind. We feel put-upon, pressed for time, and under attack. Stress captures so much of our energy and attention that we feel as if we have to “fight, fly, or freeze.” We lack the feeling of safety and well-being from which kindness and generosity flow.

Which is another reason why it’s so important to interrupt our feelings of stress with more helpful habits. One of the best habits is to practice gratitude. Instead of focusing on all of the things that might worry you, stop and appreciate all of the things that are going right. Count your blessings. Think about the people you love. Consider the relative abundance you have compared to many other people in the world. And no matter how much you might worry about your life, your health, your appearance, your performance, take a moment to be kind to yourself!

When you do this, you’re practicing self-care.

When you feel good yourself it’s easier to be kind to others. But the truth is, the process also works in reverse: you can do something kind for others and ease your own stress. It doesn’t have to be major: hold the door, let another driver ahead of you, smile at a stranger, or compliment a co-worker. Just like gratitude can become a practice, kindness can too. And, like any other practice, you get better at it.

Which means you get healthier. And happier. And live longer.

What will you do to practice kindness today?

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider, who should also be consulted with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.


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