2020 sees two Fridays that fall on the thirteenth day. The first was back in March, and today is the second. Although considered by the superstitious among us to be a day for bad luck or unfortunate events, Friday 13 November 2020 also marks World Kindness Day. Far from unlucky.
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – Dalai Lama
World Kindness Day serves to remind us of the importance of being kind to others, which seems especially fitting this year. Being kind to others has obvious benefits – helping out someone in need, making someone feel special, and even setting a good example for people around you – but as well as the positive vibes brought about by acts of kindness, that kind of altruistic behaviour actually improves our own physical and emotional wellbeing too.
The chemicals in kindness
Lots of us will have heard of the “happy hormone” serotonin. Kindness produces this as well as dopamine, lighting up the pleasure and reward centre of the brain to improve your mood, calm you when stressed, and make you feel good. Research shows that kind people have 23% less cortisole (the “stress hormone”) in their system, indicating lower levels of anxiety and depression.
Oxytocin is also produced when we’re being kind, which is why it’s sometimes called the “kindness hormone”. It also helps us feel good as it increases our self-esteem and helps us feel more optimistic, but it has another nickname; the “cardioprotective hormone”. This means it protects the heart. By releasing nitric oxide, oxytocin opens up the blood vessels and reduces blood pressure, and is a main contributor to heart health post-exercise.
Being kind also produces endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller. And some people report experiencing something called the “helper’s high”, a state of euphoria brought on by the act of giving.
Kindness is catching
It doesn’t matter if you’re being kind, if someone’s being kind to you, or if you’re witnessing an act of kindness, it will have a positive impact on the brain. If you help someone out, not only are both of you benefitting in multiple ways, but anyone who sees what you’re doing will feel good too – and it encourages them to act kindly themselves.
This powerful ripple effect can quickly spread (a much more desirable type of pandemic!) and it’s no wonder given the positive vibes associated with it. There’s evidence to suggest that being kind, and passing on the feeling of happiness, reducing stress, and helping people feel more optimistic also supports the immune system, and helps us feel stronger and more energised for some serious kindness-gains.
Being kind to yourself is good for you too
So important for our wellbeing is being kind to ourselves. Self-kindness doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but how we relate to ourselves impacts our emotions and mood, so it’s important to understand that imperfections, painful experiences, and even failure is inevitable, and that everyone deals with these vulnerabilities. Seeing the bigger picture in this way encourages us to view ourselves the way we would view someone we love and want to support. Celebrate your successes and pay it forward.