The surprising benefits of showing kindness to others

While many people subscribe to the notion of performing random acts of kindness, there’s actually an official World Kindness Day, celebrated November 13. Launched 20 years ago by The World Kindness Movement, and now with 28 nations officially participating, its goal is to make our world a kinder place by inspiring individual and collective efforts.

There’s no doubt that being kind has all sorts of benefits for those on the receiving end; however, there are surprising benefits of being kind for the giver too, with several studies showing that do-gooders enjoy better physical, mental and emotional health—particularly if you’re older. For example, a five-year study in the American Journal of Public Health focused on those 65 and older found that seniors who helped friends, neighbours or family over a one-year period had a 30 per cent less chance of dying after a major stressful life event compared to those who didn’t help others.

Living longer isn’t the only health benefit of being kind to others, either: another study concluded that people who performed kind acts for others (e.g., sharing their umbrella with a stranger in the rain) versus being kind to themselves, (e.g., buying a gift for themselves) enjoyed a more positive outlook.

Naturally, the recipients of acts of kindness clearly benefit too, but beyond the obvious, some research shows that receivers are often inspired to pay their kind act forward by spontaneously performing another kindness for a third person, showing that one kind act can blossom into many.

Volunteering has long been considered a vital act of kindness and generosity, with overwhelming evidence showing the health benefits for volunteers. A 2010 U.S. study that surveyed 5,000 adult volunteers found that 96 per cent reported volunteering made them happier, while 68 per cent stated they felt better physically.

Dr. Stephen Post, a professor of preventive medicine and bioethics at Stony Brook University in New York, is a huge advocate of the health benefits of volunteering, arguing that the activity’s many upsides—including lowered blood pressure and cholesterol—should  warrant doctors offering their patients a “volunteering prescription” for a wide list of ailments.

As the Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

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