It’s a scientific fact: humans are wired to be kind, and there are scientifically proven benefits to following that innate instinct. As we start the new year with fresh ideas and hopes for happiness, health and success, why not exercise your kindness muscle and reap the associated benefits – both physical and psychological?

The other great thing about kindness is that it’s contagious – like the flu and cold viruses, only different. It even has collateral benefits: Just witnessing an act of kindness among others is enough to benefit your own health. So, for example, when you see a Boy Scout helping a senior citizen carry groceries to the car, you’re not only more likely to do something nice for someone else, your own blood pressure will drop as a result. Intrigued?

Here are five great benefits of kindness:

  1. It increases oxytocin, the love hormone. When you perform or witness an act of kindness, your body’s levels of oxytocin rise. This not only increases optimism and self-esteem, but actually lowers blood pressure, making it easier for your heart to pump blood through the more relaxed blood vessels and therefore improving overall cardiovascular health.
  2. It increases pleasure and happiness. Study after study tells us that the key to heightening happiness and pleasure in your life is random acts of kindness. The Journal of Social Psychology followed three groups of people over 10 days. The first group performed an act of kindness daily, the second group tried something new each day and the third group got no specific instructions. The groups took a life satisfaction survey both before and after the 10-day timeframe. And, you guessed it: the groups that practiced kindness or tried something new enjoyed a significantly higher level of happiness while the control group’s happiness quotient didn’t change.
  3. You’ll live longer. According to Dr. Christine Carter, a fellow at UC-Berkeley’s Great Good Science Center, kindness can enhance longevity. She explains that helping others through volunteering for two or more organizations results in a 44{61271d8c6ac8952d2b8e8075a7a6af9d50bcb6e72a1066f56e1f6f2e011a6b27} lower chance of dying early – and that’s accounting for contributing factors including gender, overall health, exercise, smoking and whether subjects were married. Dr. Carter noted, “That is a stronger effect than exercising four times per week or going to church.”
  4. Energy levels rise. That’s right: helping others, even though it takes energy, enhances your energy level and increases feelings of strength. Many volunteers also say they feel more calm and less depressed after helping others, which brings us to another important benefit of kindness . . .
  5. It decreases many negative health factors, including:
    1. pain (kindness produces the brain’s natural painkiller: endorphins)
    2. stress (people who practice kindness regularly have 23{61271d8c6ac8952d2b8e8075a7a6af9d50bcb6e72a1066f56e1f6f2e011a6b27} less of the stress hormone cortisol and also age more slowly than the population at large)
    3. depression (kindness stimulates the brain to produce serotonin, the feel-good hormone)
    4. anxiety (kindness provides enhanced moods, higher relationship satisfaction and lower avoidance of social situations that produce anxiety)
    5. high blood pressure (kindness increases oxytocin levels, dilating blood vessels dilate and reducing blood pressure, protecting heart health)

Ready to Practice Random Acts of Kindness?

It’s easy; you can start by simply smiling at more people to receive modest kindness-induced health benefits. We share some additional examples below.

At Work:

  • Send an encouraging or complimentary email to a coworker
  • Leave a positive sticky note (You rock!) on a colleague’s computer
  • Bake a cake or cookies for the office break room
  • Tutor or mentor a new coworker
  • Bring breakfast bagels for your department

Around Town:

  • Leave a handwritten compliment on your restaurant bill
  • Put coins in someone’s parking meter
  • Pay the toll for the person behind you
  • Compliment a parent on the great behavior of their child
  • Slip $1 or a dried four-leaf clover in a library book
  • Give a local business a positive online review

With Your Kids:

  • Make a handmade card for a neighbor
  • Buy lemonade from a lemonade stand
  • Walk in a 5K for a good cause
  • Save coins in a piggy bank and donate the accumulated funds
  • Beautify by picking up trash in your neighborhood
  • Let someone go ahead of you in the grocery store line

For the Environment:

  • Plant a flower or tree
  • Hang clothes up to dry
  • Organize a beach clean-up
  • Bring reusable bags when shopping
  • Use public transportation or ride your bike
  • Use a reusable water bottle
  • Unplug chargers when not in use

We wish you and the beneficiary of your random act of kindness―a happy, healthy and kind New Year 2018!