Kindness not only makes others feel better, it makes the person being kind feel better too. Research has shown that being kind actually improves our mood. There also appears to be a biological, evolutionary incentive to be kind.
Research shows a significant increase in mood among people who were kind to others even after being kind for just a few minutes each day. One study found that after six months, participants who acted kindly towards others on a daily basis reported much better self-esteem and happiness than those in a control group. Research also found significant improvement in levels of serotonin and dopamine, two of the ‘feel-good’ anti-anxiety hormones in the brain, following participating in (or even watching) acts of kindness.
What research found is that whether one is the recipient of kindness, the person being kind, or even someone watching an act of kindness, that the brain’s “feel-good” hormones are increased among people regardless of their role in the kind act. Mood is improved in everyone associated with the kind behavior. Research also found that not only is serotonin and dopamine production increased but that the immune system is also strengthened by acts of kindness. In other words, kindness improves overall health and happiness. Know what else improves serotonin and dopamine? Antidepressants and antianxiety medications. It is believed that the increase of available serotonin and dopamine is the mechanism by which these medications improve mood and reduce stress. In other words, kindness mimics the positive results of psychiatric medications on the brain. This may create a powerful self-reward mechanism that reinforces acts of kindness. But why?
Why would the brain chemically reward acts of kindness?
Science gives us a clue: As a species humans fall into the category of animals known as “obligatorily gregarious,” to use the classification for species in which the individuals do not thrive unless they are living in a group. There are powerful reasons for why humans thrive better only when we cooperate with one another. In fact, social isolation and loneliness in humans has repeatedly been associated with both physical and psychological morbidity and mortality. In normal-speak, what this means is that being socially isolated and feeling lonely is associated with both physical and psychological health problems along with premature death.
Let’s look at why humans need and depend on one another a little closer. Human babies are totally dependent on goodness and kindness from others. For many years after being born, we are almost completely weak and defenseless. Once we are over age 65, most of us are increasingly weak and defenseless again. By the time we become very elderly we are oftentimes once again very dependent on the goodness and kindness of others in order to survive. Even when we are younger or middle-aged adults, most of us will be sick (at least temporarily) due to brief or long-term illness, and thus dependent on the kindness and goodness of others.
In short, we are born dependent on the kindness of others, and even if we are always fully healthy adults with no disabilities, as we age and become elderly we will once again become dependent on the kindness of others. Hence kindness towards one another has a distinct evolutionary advantage for humans.