13 November is World Kindness Day, a day to remind us to be kind to our friends, strangers and ourselves. This year, UP has launched a Random Acts of Kindness campaign to remind our community about doing random acts of kindness to generate a positive ripple effect on society. We hope this new tradition allows us all to realise that we can all choose to be kind. If you are a recipient of a random act of kindness, please let us know how you felt using the hashtag #UPUbuntu.
There are numerous benefits to being kind. Kindness, caring, generosity and social bonding are part of how we live THE UP WAY. At this stressful time of the year, it is also important to be kind to yourself. Do what you can and do the best you can in your circumstances. Remember, not everyone can be excellent at everything they do. Give it your best shot, but don’t give up or beat yourself up over things that you cannot control.
Scientific studies indicate that the benefits of kindness affect both the giver and the receiver. A series of studies in neuroscience at Stanford University, headed by Professor Jamil Zaki, has found that kindness is actually ‘contagious’ and that if you see an act of kindness or generosity, you are likely to spread it. One good deed will in turn inspire another.
How does this work, exactly?
Kindness has been found to increase positive biochemical responses in humans. This means that when one is kind or has witnessed an act of kindness, several biological processes occur: It’s argued that kindness increases oxytocin production. Oxytocin is said to be responsible for, among other things, increasing feelings of happiness. Increased oxytocin may also boost feelings of trust, according to a University of Zurich study, which in turn helps to reduce anxiety, boosts self-esteem, and creates a sense of happiness and optimism.
A study at the University of British Columbia found that highly anxious individuals relaxed more and showed an increase in positive moods and a decrease in social anxiety and social avoidance if they performed just six acts of kindness a week.
The ‘helper’s high’ is a biochemical phenomenon in which your brain’s pleasure centre lights up as a reward for being kind. This causes a dopamine rush, so as a giver you feel as good as a receiver for doing something unexpectedly nice for another person. Dopamine is a hormone that is strongly associated with feelings of happiness. This is what makes being kind so addictive. The more you practise kindness to others, the more your brain rewards you with a dopamine rush. In fact, an Emory University study found that the human mind gets highly excited by surprises and unexpected good turns. This is why, according to a University of California, Berkeley study, the ‘helper’s high’ is said to produce enough endorphins to have the same mental effect as a mild morphine high.
Kindness (like most anti-depressants) may boost your levels of serotonin. Serotonin is responsible for a positive mood, overall mood regulation and general well-being. It has benefits for memory, learning and brain function.
The combination of endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin is responsible for our happiness, and practising random acts of kindness is a simple hack to boost their levels and in turn, our overall happiness.
Acts of kindness reduce stress and enhance health. Dr Stephen Post from Case Western Reserve University found that altruistic behaviour improves everything from life satisfaction to physical health.
According to Professor Tharina Guse, Head of UP’s Department of Psychology, “In particular, kindness can enhance positive emotions, not only for the persons who do kind acts, but also for the receivers of these acts. Further, it strengthens our social relationships. Interestingly, a study from the University of Utrecht showed that students who engaged in acts of kindness experienced higher levels of academic engagement. In other words, they felt energised by their studies and showed dedication and persistence.”
A Harvard Business School study involving 136 countries found that societies which were the most charitable and financially generous had the happiest people. Kindness need not be expensive; it can be as simple as a smile, a kind word, good demeanour or giving someone the right of way on a road. It is also beneficial to take time to reflect on your acts of kindness – for example, asking yourself: What kind act did you do, and what were the outcomes for yourself and others?
Dr Christine Carter, author of Raising happiness: 10 simple steps for more joyful kids and happier parents, notes that, “Kinder people actually live longer, healthier lives. 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 organisations 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; it means that volunteering is nearly as beneficial to our health as quitting smoking!”
Do something nice and kind for someone today to celebrate World Kindness Day, and just imagine the impact of the ripple effect of nearly 60 000 students and staff at UP doing at least one act of kindness a day? We can change the world, THE UP WAY.