Today is ‘Random Acts of Kindness Day’, and showing kindness makes the recipients of those gestures feel good, but have you ever wondered why kindness makes you feel good too? It doesn’t make you selfish if showing kindness makes you feel good, there’s actually a scientific explanation why.
A recent study explains that kindness can be both taught, but also changes your brain:
In healthy adults, we found that compassion training increased altruistic redistribution of funds to a victim encountered outside of the training context. Furthermore, increased altruistic behavior after compassion training was associated with altered activation in brain regions implicated in social cognition and emotion regulation, including the inferior parietal cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and in DLPFC connectivity with the nucleus accumbens. These results suggest that compassion can be cultivated with training and that greater altruistic behavior may emerge from increased engagement of neural systems implicated in understanding the suffering of other people, executive and emotional control, and reward processing. [Sage Pub]
There is a hormone in our brain and body called oxytocin, which is produced when we show acts of kindness and gain that ’emotional warmth’. To go even further on a biological level, oxytocin releases a chemical called nitric oxide which dilates blood vessels, and lowers blood pressure. Can you believe doing something good actually makes us physically healthier too?
Kim Barthel and Theo Fleury discuss this particular notion at length in ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’, they even dedicated an entire chapter to it—Helping is Healing.
“When you engage in helping, feel-good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin float around in your bloodstream. These chemicals turn on all the parts of your DNA that help you to become resilient, healthier and better able to cope with stress. Although it might seem like doing nice things for others is only altruistic, ultimately we are helping ourselves greatly in the process.” — Kim Barthel from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’
So do something kind for someone else (and for yourself), not just today, but every day. Helping is healing!