THE 5 SIDE EFFECTS OF KINDNESSby David R. Hamilton PhD
When we think of side effects, the first thing we think is that they’re a negative thing. But who’d have thought that kindness could have side effects too? And positive ones at that.
1) Kindness Makes us Happier
When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good. On a spiritual level, many people feel that this is because it is the right thing to do and so we’re tapping into something deep and profound inside of us that says, ‘This is who I am.’
On a scientific level, the good feeling we get by being kind is from our brain producing more dopamine, a natural equivalent of morphine or heroin, creating what is often referred to as a ‘Helper’s High’.
2) Kindness Gives us Healthier Hearts
Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth which produces the hormone, oxytocin, in the brain and body. Oxytocin plays an important role in the cardiovascular system, by releasing a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, and dilates (expands) them to reduce blood pressure. The key is that acts of kindness often produce oxytocin in the body, and therefore kindness is ‘cardio-protective’ because the lower blood pressure, protects the heart.
3) Kindness Slows Ageing
Ageing is a combination of many biochemical reactions in the body, but two culprits that speed up the process are free radicals and inflammation. Remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (produced by emotional warmth), reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system, and so slows ageing at the source. These two ageing culprits also play a major role in heart disease so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart.
There have also been suggestions in scientific journals of the strong link between compassion and the activity of the vagus nerve, a nerve which regulates the heart rate and controls inflammation levels in the body. One study that used the Tibetan Buddhist’s ‘Loving Kindness Compassion’ meditation, found that kindness and compassion reduced inflammation in the body, mostly likely due to its effects on the vagus nerve.
4) Kindness Makes for Better Relationships
We all like people who show us kindness. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people and so we feel more ‘bonded’. It’s something that is so strong in us that it’s actually a genetic thing. As humans, we are designed for kindness. Historically, the stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater were the chances of survival. and so ‘kindness genes’ were etched into the human genome.
When we are kind to each other, we feel a connection and new relationships are forged, or existing ones are strengthened.
5) Kindness is Contagious
When we’re kind, we inspire others to be kind. Studies show that this actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends – to 3-degrees of separation.
A recent scientific study reported than an anonymous 28-year-old person walked into a clinic and donated a kidney. It set off a ‘pay it forward’ type ripple effect where the spouses or other family members of recipients of a kidney donated one of theirs to someone else in need. The ‘domino effect’, as it was called in the New England Journal of Medicine report, spanned the length and breadth of the United States of America, where 10 people received a new kidney as a consequence of that anonymous donor.