The Kindness and Mental Health Connection
“A life not lived for others is not a life,” observed Mother Teresa. There may be truth to this, according to Mental Health America. Psychologically, acts of kindness make us feel grateful, empathetic, and compassionate. These are positive feelings that give us a sense of belonging and community. Biologically, kindness releases chemicals like the “love hormone,” oxytocin, which helps us form social bonds based on trust.
The Case for Kindness
Kindness means actions that are selfless or a mindset that puts others’ well-being before our own. “Kind actions can boost our mental and spiritual happiness,” says Karina Arias LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker at PIH Health’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Clinic. “If you help a friend through a tough time or help a stranger solve a problem, you will feel a sense of purpose and will be aware of your own good fortune in relation to others.” As a result, the Mental Health Foundation says kindness makes us feel like we belong to a community. Knowing we are connected with those with whom we live and work wards off feelings of loneliness that can bring down our mood.
While being kind benefits us socially, there are also biological reasons why kindness improves our mental health. Our brains reward us when we do kind things. If you comfort someone who has lost a loved one, your brain may release oxytocin, a hormone that helps us bond with others. Oxytocin makes us more trusting, generous, and friendly. Additionally, kind actions signal our brains to release serotonin and dopamine, two chemicals involved in creating “helper’s high” and lessening pain, depression, and anxiety
Small Acts to Kindness
Everyone is capable of being kinder in their day-to-day lives, where even small acts of goodwill can be just as beneficial as grand gestures of altruism. Here are some steps you can take to be kinder and happier:
- Call a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in a while;
- Help others with small chores like cooking for your significant other or running an errand for your parents;
- Volunteer at an animal or homeless shelter;
- Take care of yourself by reading a book to exercise your mind or going to the gym to exercise your body;
- Forgive someone who may have hurt you or who you may have had a falling out with.
The important thing to remember is that being kinder means making a deliberate effort to put others before yourself. Our bodies and minds reward us when we go out of the way for other people. For a quick rundown of how kindness affects happiness, check out these health facts from Random Acts of Kindness, a nonprofit dedicated to kindness education.