To me, May is a reminder of kindness. My favorite part of May has always been “May Day,” celebrated on May 1st. To celebrate, my family would create a little basket of goodies for each of our neighbors. Then, the fun: ding the neighbor’s doorbell, leave the basket, and RUN. This always felt amazing! Not only was I doing something fun with my mom and my sister, I also loved to imagine my surprised neighbors, overjoyed by finding a surprise of flowers, fruit, or cookies in a lovely basket on their doorstep. (I’m sure they knew it was us, but it felt like such a secret to me as a kid.)
To this day, I get excited about May Day, because it represents something wholesome, kind, and caring. I’m no Martha Stewart, but I still yearn for those happy little things that make my heart feel full to bursting, and this memory is one of those things.
As it turns out, that “heart full of joy” feeling you get from kind and generous activities does more than just make you happy – it’s also great for your health! (I’m sure you knew I’d get around to this eventually.) Check out these benefits of sharing a bit of kindness, and stick around for a few simple ideas to spread the warm, fuzzy feelings around! At the end of this post, you’ll also find a bunch of links that support the positive impact a little kindness can have on your health and well-being.
A kind heart is a healthy heart!
Studies have shown that when we complete an act of kindness, we receive a boost in the hormone Oxytocin. According to Dr. David Hamilton, “Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure).”
Is it enough of a reduction to negate the extra salt in my diet? Well, I’m no doctor, but I am an expert in wishful thinking. Maybe if I share those French fries, the kindness boost might just evaporate some of the “bad stuff” about the fries themselves. Plus, by sharing, I’m only eating half as many as I would have if I’d been selfish. That’s a win, win situation!
Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.
Oxytocin has also been called a “love hormone” because it is produced by nursing moms and helps them bond (and fall absolutely in love) with their new babies. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that this same hormone helps us bond with others in social situations as well! It can help reduce anxiety and keep depression at bay. When you couple this benefit with the next, the cumulative effect is a great mood boost!
More endorphins? Yes, please!
Acts of kindness can also repay you in the form of serotonin release and endorphin production. Most of us have heard that serotonin “makes you feel good.” It is commonly believed that low serotonin levels can lead to depression, anxiety disorder, and other mood disorders. On the flip side, a little boost in serotonin supports feelings of happiness and enhances the “good mood” feeling.
Add the endorphin release, and you’ve really got a good thing going! Endorphins increase the feeling of well-being, help relieve stress, and even decrease pain in a similar way to opioid drugs, but without any of those nasty side-effects! Together, the increases in oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins create an unstoppable mood-and-body-boosting trio. The kindness effect combats everything from depression and anxiety to aches and pains. Speaking of aches and pains, that brings us to…
What about inflammation?
Chronic inflammation is of great interest to researchers as a potential underlying contributor to many illnesses. According to this study, “Regularly engaging in volunteering has a special way of getting ‘under the skin,’ resulting in what appears as a younger biological profile for inflammation.” Volunteering gave a greater health benefit, in terms of reduced overall inflammation, than other types of “productive activity,” possibly because of the health boost received based on the generosity and kindness involved in the act of volunteering.
Reducing inflammation may help the body avoid many kinds of health issues, including Alzheimer’s disease, congestive heart failure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, cancer – and these are just the big names. Everyday ailments like joint pain and arthritis can also seem lighter after an act of kindness. If we thought of kindness as medicine, how much more of it could we create?
Wow, kindness is strong stuff!
But wait – there’s more! In addition to all the benefits we’ve already discussed, let me throw in one more tidbit. This one is my favorite. Kindness begets kindness. It’s the ripple effect – an act of kindness can spread from one person to many, and it happens with so little effort!
Put kindness in action:
Maybe you buy a coffee for the guy behind you in the drive-through today. The person working the window gets to be a part of your kindness, which benefits him or her. The guy getting the free coffee doesn’t know you to thank you, so hopefully he’ll pass on the kindness to another stranger, or maybe even two. Each of those people, in turn, commit their own acts of kindness, spreading your single act to a positive health impact on a whole bunch of people, all for the cost of a single cup of coffee.
I like to pay for the coffee of the other folks behind me in line. It typically costs me less than $10, and makes the other people feel good, but more importantly, it makes me feel so good, and random acts of kindness change the world one person at a time.
It’s easy for me to see the benefit of a single act, but really, who does only one kind thing in a day? How many kindnesses can you spread around today? If we all take a few minutes to plan something generous and selfless, just imagine the impact we can have! Here are some ideas to get you started:
Our first day being kind
Everyone is new at something, some time. The good news is, it doesn’t take long to get the hang of dishing out kindness. A smile at a stranger, a compliment or a helping hand – these are all free. Here’s one of my secrets, and I don’t mind sharing it with you: lots of times, when I see someone is having a tough day, I will go out of my way to find something nice to say about that person.
Look at what he or she is wearing, the hairstyle or the accessories. There’s always something that took a little extra time to do, or something that maybe he’s insecure about or she wasn’t so sure if she could pull off that day. What if you’re the one to say “hey, I really like your scarf, where did you get it?” or “you look great today, what did you do differently?” Such a simple thing can really go a long way to making someone feel noticed.
A few more freebies
Donate your unwanted stuff to a women’s shelter or volunteer for an outreach organization in your area. These are fabulous causes, and of course, you’ll get the health benefit from the act of generosity. Help load someone’s groceries, open the door for a stranger, or help your neighbor with yard work if you happen to be outside at the same time.
And, of course, there’s that “pay for the guy behind me” trick in the drive-through. It’s a game of chance – he or she might be buying for the whole office! It sure does feel good though, when you can surprise someone with a free order; even though you don’t see the reaction, you know what you’d feel like if it happened to you!
We’re not done yet!
I’m lucky to work at HealthStar, because we have whole offices full of kindness. There is something to be said for working with people who truly care about people. I feel it every day, surrounded by nurses and support staff who would drop everything to help a person in need. But even for those who find it easy to spread kindness, a reminder might be needed. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own little world sometimes! Here are some of my favorite workplace examples of sharing kindness – maybe you can start small in your office today!
Share your lunch with someone who doesn’t have much that day – I know I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of this one, and both are amazing. Give a few minutes of your time to a co-worker who needs a listening ear. Leave a “love note” to tell your co-workers what you admire most about them. Bring a treat to share, or if you’re on a health kick, bring some fruit or veggies and hummus. Recognize the contribution of a team member, or just send a little email to tell someone you’re thinking of her. And don’t forget the May Day basket – I’d love to see this tradition revitalized, in or out of the office setting!
Go forth and be kind!
I challenge you to come up with your own creative ways to spread kindness, and I promise you’ll enjoy these wonderful benefits to your own health and wellness in return. I think this is nature’s way of telling us that this is how we should be doing things – give to someone else, and in return, you get something that maybe even money can’t buy. A heart full of joy, and a body full of health!
And as always, contact HealthStar if you’re looking for staff who know how to put kindness into action to help you reach your health and wellness goals!
Please check out these links for more information: