When people, especially strangers, go out of their way to do a good deed for us, it touches our heart. My children and I were sitting in a doctor’s office recently and I was blown away by the kindness of a young boy sitting next to us. He heard me telling my daughter to stop putting her dirty hands in her mouth after she was playing on the floor. This six-year-old boy came over and offered my daughter hand sanitizer. This simple act of kindness and sharing was a moment to cherish that day amongst the stress of a long wait in a loud, crowded waiting room.
Why We Help Others
Why do you help others? Yes, it is the right thing to do. But did you know that it also makes you happier and healthier?
I know it may be a bit selfish to look at how being kind to others is beneficial to us personally, but the recent science surrounding kindness is so fascinating that we can’t ignore it. Plus, it is important for parents to understand why we want to instill kindness in our children so that we can provide all the reasons when they question it.
Kindness is a win-win for both the giver and receiver. In searching for ways to reduce my own stress, I started participating in more volunteer activities in my community. I recently worked with an under-privileged first grader on his reading skills. It was so rewarding when he read the word “different” on his own since it was really challenging for him. His teacher was so excited about his accomplishment and it was lovely to see how it boosted his confidence. I experienced so much joy from helping him and can’t wait to go back in a couple weeks.
What Happens When We Are Kind?
Our brain chemistry actually changes when we do something nice for another person. Studies show that thinking about, watching, or practicing kindness stimulates the vagus nerve, which is linked to the production of oxytocin in our brain. Oxytocin is a hormone that soothes us, making us feel calmer and happier. Kindness also triggers the production of dopamine, the hormone responsible for positive emotions and that natural high feeling we get. As a result, we experience positive health changes including:
- Increased life expectancy
- Feeling less lonely
- Stronger immune system
- Fewer aches and pains
- Decrease in stress and anxiety
- Less depression
How Kindness And Stress Are Connected
How can helping someone else reduce our stress level? A study published just last year at UCLA and Yale University School of Medicine linked acts of kindness to stress reduction. For 14 days, a group of adults was asked to report stressful events they experienced each day from several categories (e.g., interpersonal, work/education, home, finance, health/accident). They were also asked to report whether they participated in various helpful behaviors (e.g., held open a door, helped with schoolwork, asked someone if they needed help) that day.
Results showed that on any given day, helping others controlled the effects of stress on overall health. Researchers concluded that volunteerism can be an important way of coping with stress. According to the Association for Psychological Science, study author Emily Ansell of the Yale University School of Medicine said, “Stressful days usually lead us to have a worse mood and poorer mental health, but our findings suggest that if we do small things for others, such as holding a door open for someone, we won’t feel as poorly on stressful days.”
Ways To Expand Kindness In Your Family’s Life
Now that you know all the amazing benefits of kindness, don’t you just want to get out there and make someone smile? There are so many simple ways you can incorporate kindness into your family’s daily routine.
- Bring a kindness program to your child’s school through the Ripple Kindness Project.
- Do random acts of kindness with your kids and talk to them about the experience. How did it make them feel? Some ideas include leaving a treat on a neighbor’s doorstep, giving a very generous tip to restaurant staff, opening a door for a stranger, and helping the elderly with groceries.
- Join a kindness challenge. I encourage everyone to sign up with KindSpring. The site offers kindness challenges and an online community of people who practice small acts of kindness, share stories and support each other.
- Find a local volunteer project to do as a family.
- Send a thank you note to someone who has done something special for you.
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AUTHOR: Sandi Schwartz - Happy Science Mom
Sandi is a freelance writer, editor and researcher specializing in parenting, wellness, environmental issues and human behavior. She enjoys analyzing everyday life using science, humor and a passion to improve the world. Her blog provides a parenting toolkit for raising happy, balanced children. To learn more about her work, please visit her website or follow her on twitter.