Did you know that whether you are the giver, the receiver or the observer of an act of kindness -- you reap tremendous benefits to your health?
Yes, this is a phenomenon that has been discovered not too long ago. Numerous scientific studies have shown that kindness has a positive effect on the immune system and on the increased production of serotonin in the brain.
Serotonin is a naturally occurring neurochemical that has a calming, mood regulating, and anti-anxiety effect ... and it's regarded as a "feel good" substance because it serves as a pathway for pleasure in the brain.
The mechanism of action in most anti-depressant drugs is that they stimulate the production of serotonin chemically, which helps alleviate depression.
One of the most fascinating research findings to come out in recent years is that whenever a simple act of kindness is extended by a human being towards another, it results in a significant improvement in the functioning of the immune system and increased production of serotonin in both the recipient of the kindness as well as in the person extending the kindness.
What's even more amazing is that person observing the act of kindness also experience a similar strengthening of the immune system and increased production of serotonin!
Kindness is a win-win-win scenario which produces beneficial effects in the giver, the recipient and the observer.
People naturally feel good when they give, help or serve others because they experience something called "helper's high," which authors Allan Luks and Peggy Payne (The Healing Power of Doing Good) describe as a feeling of exhilaration and burst of energy similar to the endorphin-based euphoria experienced after intense exercise ... followed by a period of calmness and serenity.
The benefits of kindness are not limited to immune system strengthening and serotonin production. Research has shown that those who routinely engage in acts of kindness, such as volunteers, experience alleviation of stress, chronic pain, and even insomnia.
An article in Psychology Today titled "What We Get When We Give" (by Christine Carter, Ph.D., 2/18/10) states: "People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying -- and that's after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status, and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church."
A study conducted at Harvard University, called this phenomenon the "Mother Teresa Effect." Researchers showed a film to 132 Harvard students about Mother Teresa's work among the poor people of Calcutta. They then measured the level of Immunoglobin A present in their saliva.
[Note: Immunoglobin A is an antibody that plays a critical role in immunity.]
The test revealed markedly increased levels of Immunoglobin A in all the test subjects -- this, after simply witnessing somebody else involved in charity work.
Considering the abundance of proof that acts of kindness increase one's sense of self-worth ... enhance feelings of joyfulness ... boost one's sense of physical and emotional well-being ... increase sense of happiness, optimism and self-worth ... decrease feelings of depression ... and diminish the effect of diseases and disorders ... one of the best things we can do is find opportunities to extend kindness, and teach children to do the same.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Smile at strangers ... especially those who are having a bad day
- Volunteer your time to do charity work or help wherever there's need
- Watch movies that display kindness
- Write a note to let someone know they are loved
- Give compliments often
- Give up your place in line to another person
- Donate blood
- Write a thank-you note, especially to someone who's not expecting thanks
P.S This reminds me of what Portia said in one of William Shakespeare's works, "The Merchant of Venice". Disguised as a doctor of law, Portia has come to rescue Antonio, the merchant of Venice. Antonio had foolishly signed a bond granting the usurer Shylock a "pound of flesh" if he defaulted on the loan he was forced to seek - ironically, in order to help a friend court Portia. Portia said:
"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this—
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer, doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much,
To mitigate the justice of thy plea,
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there."