“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” Aesop
A whopping 63% of UK adults agree that when other people are kind it has a positive impact on their mental health, and the same proportion agree that being kind to others has a positive impact on their mental health.
Back in the early days of the pandemic, when the world was consumed by anxiety and uncertainty, the Mental Health Foundation launched its annual Mental Health Awareness Week, calling it the most important one they’d ever done. The theme they chose: Kindness.
In September 2021, the American Psychological Association backed the #BeKind21 campaign, encouraging participants to commit to 21 days of kindness, reasoning that “kindness toward others can boost our own physical and mental health.”
If these both sound like a woolly, idealistic concept without foundation, the truth is actually different. Kindness is a key element in combatting poor mental health, with tangible benefits not just for the recipient, but also the giver. It is scientifically proven to improve wellbeing.
The benefits are manifold, physically, mentally and socially. Let’s take a look at them.
Performing acts of kindness has been shown to decrease blood pressure and cortisol, a stress hormone, which directly impacts stress levels. Witnessing or performing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, occasionally referred to as the ‘love hormone’, which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health. Oxytocin also increases self-esteem and optimism.
Inflammation in the body is associated with all sorts of health problems such as diabetes, cancer, chronic pain, obesity, migraines and depression. According to a study of adults aged 57-85, “volunteering manifested the strongest association with lower levels of inflammation.” Oxytocin also reduces inflammation, and even little acts of kindness can trigger oxytocin’s release.
Sociologist and author Christine Carter says: “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 early, 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.”
Kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, and improve mood.
Physiologically, kindness can positively change your brain. Being kind boosts serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters in the brain that give you feelings of satisfaction and wellbeing. Endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain killer, also can be released.
According to research from Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centres light up, as if you were the recipient of the good deed—not the giver. This phenomenon is called the “helper’s high.”
“About half of participants in one study reported that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others,” says Christine Carter, “many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth”.
Furthermore, the action of helping others allows people to get a greater degree of perspective on their own problems. There is some evidence that being aware of your own acts of kindness and the things you are grateful for can increase feelings of happiness, optimism, and satisfaction. Doing good may help you have a more positive outlook on your circumstances.
When the Mental Health Foundation chose kindness as the theme for its Mental Health Awareness Week, it said: “We have chosen kindness because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity.”
“Volunteering and helping others can also help us feel a sense of belonging, make new friends and connect with our community. Face-to-face activities such as volunteering at a food bank can help reduce loneliness and isolation.”
This shared sense of community, solidarity and belonging is a key component in people’s wellness. Kindness can increase your sense of connectivity with others, which can directly impact loneliness, improve low mood and enhance relationships in general. And these relationships are key to our ability to thrive.
When you’re kind to others, you develop strong, meaningful relationships and friendships.
Kindness in the Workplace
It goes without saying that good physical and mental health are key to the happiness and productivity of a workplace. Therefore, any intervention that can help boost workforce wellbeing makes sense on both an ethical and financial basis. But promoting kindness in the workplace can also benefit the whole culture of an organisation, encouraging employees to interact more, support one another, and form emotional bonds. A workplace with a culture of kindness at its heart will be more inclusive, more welcoming, and a more attractive, and productive, place to work.
But how does an employer ensure that kindness and helping others becomes part of the fabric of the workplace?
You could try putting up framed quotes on the walls about kindness. But you’d probably just annoy people and they’d become a bit of a joke. Alternatively, you could take tangible action, by introducing a workplace engagement platform like BuddyBoost.
BuddyBoost Be Kind
BuddyBoost encourages participants to improve their wellbeing by undergoing different types of workplace challenges for the duration of a month. There are a number of BuddyBoost challenges available, involving physical activity, healthy eating, being more eco-minded and, of particular relevance here, BuddyBoost’s Be Kind Challenge.
The Be Kind Challenge involves asking participants to perform an act of kindness every day for 26 days. The act of kindness could be anything small or large, from checking in with someone vulnerable to donating to a food bank, giving up your seat on the bus to volunteering for a community organisation.
The participants all record their activities on the BuddyBoost app’s community feed, where they can communicate with others undertaking the challenge, posting photos and messages, encouraging and inspiring one another, as well as recording how much their mood has been boosted by their good deeds. The result is a haven of positivity and mutual support, and improved camaraderie and a real sense of community.
Being kind is the ultimate feel good scenario, where everyone benefits. It takes time, and commitment, but with support and encouragement from an employer, workers are given both the time and the inclination to do something that will help themselves, their workplace, and their community at large. The ripples can create big waves.
As the Dalai Lama says: "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."