When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, we all know that it is important to eat a balanced diet, incorporate exercise into our daily routines and to get a decent night’s sleep on a regular basis. What many of us don’t know, however, is that being kind toward others can actually benefit our own mental and physical health, as recent studies show.
This correlation between kindness and well-being can be explained by naturally occurring chemicals in the human body, such as oxytocin, which is often referred to as “the love hormone.” Oxytocin produces feelings of euphoria, generosity and sympathy—and according to researchers at the National Institute of Health, when people carry out acts of kindness, the brain produces this hormone in abundance, leading to an overall sense of well-being.
Philosophically speaking, the act of helping others helps many to find a sense of purpose in the world, and acts of kindness are revered by religion and atheists alike. After all, whether or not you believe in an afterlife, helping to relieve the suffering of others in this world is a profound achievement on many levels.
So where do you begin? One way to get involved is to ask friends and family if they donate to any specific charities. If you would like a more hands-on approach to helping others, try volunteering to work at a local soup kitchen, with habitat for humanity, or even something as simple as mowing the lawn for your elderly or disabled neighbors.
It has long been suggested that stress reduction plays a huge role achieving personal happiness. Unhealthy habits like engaging in reckless behavior, smoking, drinking, and doing drugs are all unhealthy ways to deal with stress, and can ironically lead to an even greater level of stress. This creates an unhealthy, vicious cycle that can be difficult to break.
So the next time you feel stressed, consider doing something to help someone else instead. Positive stress relief will not only make you feel good about yourself, but it can actually boost your immunity and ultimately prolong your life. In fact, behavioral psychologist David McClelland recently conducted a study where students were asked to watch a video of Mother Teresa helping the poor. In response to the video, the students’ numbers of immunoglobulin cells—which are responsible for a healthy immune system–actually increased substantially.
Kindness is also imperative for fostering solid, positive relationships and friendships—both of which help us live longer, more rewarding lives. Do you ever notice that happy people are often healthier? It’s not your imagination: it’s because happy people are generally kind to others, and also to themselves.
So if you’ve been feeling blue and under the weather, try doing something—no matter how small—for someone else. Donate a small amount of money to a local charity, wash your neighbor’s car, or even have a yard sale and donate the proceeds to an organization such as the Boys and Girl’s Club. Starting small is easy, and you will be pleasantly surprised at the immediate and positive effect it will have on your state of mind.