Why Being Kind Is Good For You

Imagine, for a minute, a world where everyone is just a little kinder. More kindness may help your community thrive.

By Claire Buckis Adapted from: Reader's Digest Magazine, New Zealand, December 2008

Professor Sam Bowles from the Santa Fe Institute recently coined the phrase “survival of the nicest.”

“Groups with many altruists tend to survive,” he says. “Altruists cooperate and contribute to the well-being of fellow group members.”

In other words, we have an in-built capacity to help others, especially those close to us, to ensure the survival of our community.

Give and Receive

Research shows kindness can also make us happier. Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky from the University of California asked participants in a study to perform random acts of kindness over ten weeks. She found happiness increased with people who performed a wide variety of kind acts over people who performed one act of kindness repeatedly.

Generate Health

Kindness is good for you in other ways. Professor Stephen Post, author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People, has examined the evidence that being kind is good for your health.

“A strong correlation exists between the wellbeing, happiness and health of people who are kind,” says Post. “It’s difficult to be angry, resentful, or fearful when one is showing unselfish love towards another person,” says Post.

Natural High

A 2005 study from Hebrew University in Israel found a link between kindness and a gene that releases dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain.

Research by Alan Luks in his 1991 book,  The Healing Power of Doing Good, found that helpers reported a distinct physical sensation when being kind. Many reported feeling more energetic, warm, calmer and greater self-worth, a phenomenon he calls the “helper’s high.”

Giving Freely

Kindness has another similarity with happiness – it can’t be bought. Professor Sam Bowles says economists often make the mistake of assuming people are inherently selfish. But Bowles’ report, published in Science this year, found otherwise. Bowles believes we resent the idea that our principles can be bough: we prefer to do good deeds for their own sake. “People enjoy being kind to others much as they enjoy eating ice-cream. It gives us pleasure,” he says.

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