Kindness is a universal human trait recognised and celebrated throughout history. It is often described as a warm, generous, and selfless act of compassion towards others. While it is commonly thought of as a moral or ethical obligation, some research suggests that kindness also has significant benefits for both the giver and the recipient.
From reducing stress and anxiety to improving overall health and well-being, the science of kindness sheds light on how this simple act can positively impact our lives. This blog will explore the science of kindness and how it can improve mental and physical health, strengthen relationships, and create a more positive and connected world.
Kindness and the Brain
Acts of kindness have numerous positive effects on the brain and emotional well-being. When people are kind to others, the brain releases mood-boosting hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine. Oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone’, promotes bonding and social connection, helping produce more positive emotions and decreasing overall stress levels.
Additionally, acts of kindness stimulate the pleasure and reward centres in the brain. Research from Emory University found that people who were kind to others reacted as though they were receiving the good deed, not the recipient, a phenomenon known as the ‘helper’s high’. This feeling can be highly rewarding, encouraging people to continue performing acts of kindness.
A recent study from The Journal of Social Psychology also found that consistent acts of kindness vastly improved people’s emotional well-being. People who performed kind acts for seven days in a row experienced a significant boost in happiness, and the researchers found that the more kind actions they performed, the greater increase in happiness.
Kindness and Physical Health
Kindness is linked to not only improved mental health but improved physical health, too. Being kind enhances heart health by releasing oxytocin, which causes the release of nitric oxide. This chemical has a vasodilating effect, as it dilates blood vessels within the body and lowers blood pressure, therefore protecting the heart and, over time, increasing longevity.
Compassion and kindness is also a great stress buster and can help reduce cortisol levels within the body. Cortisol is a stress hormone the body produces to help people manage stressful situations, enhancing how the brain uses glucose and curbing nonessential functions to help with the fight-or-flight response. Consistently high cortisol levels can cause inflammation, contribute to chronic pain, and increase the risk of heart disease. However, kindness promotes positive emotion and social connection, which lowers cortisol levels and can protect overall health.
Additionally, kindness is also associated with longevity – a five-year study found that those who supported their loved ones had significantly reduced mortality rates. This may be due to the positive impact of social connection on health and the stress-busting effect of kindness.
Connection and Kindness
Human connection is a core component of human well-being. It is integral to people’s relationships with others and themselves. Babies begin to form attachments to their caregivers the day they are born, and a lack of genuine connection can lead to a lower life expectancy.
However, even in a globally connected world, loneliness can prevail. Around 45% of adults in England said they feel lonely occasionally, sometimes, or often. People may fear rejection or abandonment, which prevents them from seeking connection and contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Additionally, the prevalence of social media can increase feelings of social disconnection, causing people to compare themselves to others online and exacerbating anxiety.
Kindness and connection are intrinsically linked – compassionate acts can foster connection, deepen social bonds, and improve empathy. For example, volunteering within an organisation fosters a sense of belonging with a group and strengthens communities, helping people make new friends and expand their social circle.
Making kindness a habit can help people create a positive cycle of connection and well-being for themselves and those around them. Just one small act of kindness can breed another, boosting feelings of confidence and optimism.
Kindness is not limited to what people can do for others – it is also what they can do for themselves. Self-compassion is the practice of being kind to oneself in the face of difficulties, mistakes, or shortcomings.
Practising self-compassion involves three key components, according to psychologist Kristin Neff:
- Self-kindness – This component involves treating oneself with warmth, understanding, and support rather than harsh criticism or self-judgment. It is easy to make a mistake and get angry or upset, but self-kindness helps people recognise that imperfection and mistakes are inevitable and that a wrong choice does not make them bad people.
- Common humanity – Suffering and imperfection are normal human experiences. Everyone makes mistakes or experiences difficulties at some point, and self-compassion acknowledges this fact.
- Mindfulness – Being present and non-judgmental in the face of difficult emotions or experiences, rather than getting caught up in negative thoughts or self-criticism, is key for self-compassion.
Self-compassion can have numerous benefits for mental health, including reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. It can also increase self-esteem, promote resilience, and foster more positive relationships with others. Additionally, those who foster self-compassion cultivate higher emotional intelligence and have a reduced fear of failure.
Acts of kindness can be an essential part of practising self-compassion, as they can help to cultivate feelings of warmth and care toward oneself. For example, taking time to engage in self-care activities like getting enough sleep, eating nourishing food, or spending time in nature can be an act of kindness toward oneself. Similarly, practising self-compassion in the face of a challenging experience or mistake can involve offering oneself kind words, acknowledging the common humanity of the situation, and staying non-judgmental.
Even small acts of kindness can significantly impact someone’s life, whether giving or receiving it. Cultivating empathy, compassion, and care is the first step towards building a kinder, more connected society.
If you have a client or know of someone struggling with anything you have read in this blog, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and outpatient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long-lasting recovery. For more information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).
 Brown SL, Nesse RM, Vinokur AD, Smith DM. Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it: results from a prospective study of mortality. Psychol Sci. 2003;14(4):320-327. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.14461
 Pressman SD, Kraft TL, Cross MP. It’s good to do good and receive good: The impact of a ‘pay it forward’ style kindness intervention on giver and receiver well-being. J Posit Psychol. 2015;10(4):293–302.
 Marsh IC, Chan SWY, MacBeth A. Self-compassion and psychological distress in adolescents-a meta-analysis. Mindfulness (N Y). 2018;9(4):1011-1027. doi:10.1007/s12671-017-0850-7