Health Benefits of Kindness - Abbreviated
Numerous scientific studies show that acts of kindness result in significant health benefits, both physical and mental. Here are some key points:
• Helping contributes to the maintenance of good health, and it can diminish the effect of diseases and disorders serious and minor, psychological and physical.
• A rush of euphoria, followed by a longer period of calm, after performing a kind act is often referred to as a "helper's high," involving physical sensations and the release of the body's natural painkillers, the endorphins. This initial rush is then followed by a longer-lasting period of improved emotional well-being.
• Stress-related health problems improve after performing kind acts. Helping reverses feelings of depression, supplies social contact, and decreases feelings of hostility and isolation that can cause stress, overeating, ulcers, etc. A drop in stress may, for some people, decrease the constriction within the lungs that leads to asthma attacks.
• Helping can enhance our feelings of joyfulness, emotional resilience, and vigor, and can reduce the unhealthy sense of isolation.
• A decrease in both the intensity and the awareness of physical pain can occur.
• The incidence of attitudes, such as chronic hostility, that negatively arouse and damage the body is reduced.
• The health benefits and sense of well-being return for hours or even days whenever the helping act is remembered.
• An increased sense of self-worth, greater happiness, and optimism, as well as a decrease in feelings of helplessness and depression, is achieved.
• Once we establish an "affiliative connection" with someone - a relationship of friendship, love, or some sort of positive bonding - we feel emotions that can strengthen the immune system.
• Adopting an altruistic lifestyle is a critical component of mental health.
• The practice of caring for strangers translates to immense immune and healing benefits.
• Regular club attendance, volunteering, entertaining, or faith group attendance is the happiness equivalent of getting a college degree or more than doubling your income.
Kindness: How Good Deeds Can Be Good for You!
People who perform Random Acts of Kindness generally agree that doing a kind deed for someone else makes them "feel good." But apart from sheer niceness, why should people be encouraged to commit Acts of Kindness? Are there any other concrete benefits that would motivate more people to become kinder?
The answer is an overwhelming "yes!" A number of scientific studies show that Acts of Kindness result in significant health benefits, both physical and mental, for those who perform them.
One of the most compelling studies of altruism was performed by Allan Luks and documented in his 1991 book, The Healing Power of Doing Good: The Health and Spiritual Benefits of Helping Others. Luks is the former executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of Health and executive director of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of New York City.
Luks' study involved more than 3,000 volunteers of all ages at more than 20 organizations throughout the country. He sent a 17-question survey to these volunteers, asking them how they felt when they did a kind act. A total of 3,296 surveys were returned to Luks, and after a computerized analysis, he saw a clear cause-and-effect relationship between helping and good health. In a nutshell, Luks' concluded, "Helping contributes to the maintenance of good health, and it can diminish the effect of diseases and disorders both serious and minor, psychological and physical."
The volunteers in Luks' study testified to feeling a rush of euphoria, followed by a longer period of calm, after performing a kind act. This feeling, which Luks calls "helper's high," involves physical sensations that strongly indicate a sharp reduction in stress and the release of the body's natural painkillers, the endorphins. This initial rush is then followed by a longer-lasting period of improved emotional well-being.
This reduction in stress is vital to the health improvements reported by so many study volunteers. (In fact, more than 90 percent of Luks' volunteers reported that regular volunteering produced feelings which are a powerful antidote to stress.) Why is stress reduction so important? Because stress can be the root cause of so many maladies, according to Hans Selye, a Hungarian physician who wrote a groundbreaking book called The Stress of Life in 1956.
In this book, Selye coined the term "stress," describing it as a physiological response to external experiences and traumas. Stress causes a racing heart and increased breathing rate, and also sparks the adrenal glands to pump adrenaline into our bloodstream, giving us extra strength. In addition, corticosteroids — which are powerful hormones — and adrenaline work together to release fatty acids into the bloodstream, where they become energy for our muscles.
This arousal, if prolonged, shifts from a source of strength and energy into a cause of deterioration. For example, corticosteroids will, over a prolonged period, suppress immune-system functioning. Increased adrenaline and corticosteroids can aggravate diabetes. And as the adrenaline-produced fatty acids needed for energy stay in the blood, the liver converts them into cholesterol, which can lead to arteriosclerosis. A speeded-up heart rate, if prolonged, will increase the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.
In his book, Selye actually called for a new way of life that would reduce the negative effects of stress — a way of life he dubbed "altruistic egoism." This way of life would require us to adopt behaviors that involve "the creation of feelings of accomplishment and security [in ourselves] through the inspiration in others of love, good will and gratitude for what we have done or are likely to do in the future." Selye's fundamental remedy was to do good for the self by making the effort to do good for others.
Selye's findings on stress are cited by Luks because many of his study volunteers had stress-related health problems that improved after performing kind acts.