As you grew from a lovable lump of a baby to a mature and responsible young adult, your parents most likely advised you – almost as frequently as they harped on you to eat your broccoli – that you should be kind to others.
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Perhaps they were Golden Rule style parents, telling you to “Do unto others as you would have done to you.” Maybe their lessons came in the form of trips to church during which you would listen to tales of the virtues of kindness. What your parents probably didn’t mention, and perhaps should have, is that being kind to others can actually have a positive impact on your health.
Kindness doesn’t have to take a long time – or even be consciously offered – to make a difference. Psychology researcher, Barbara Fredrickson, PhD points to the positive impact of micro-moments. These moments, says Fredrickson, are the simple, and often seconds long, exchanges of positive gestures or words. Things as simple as sharing a smile or offering and receiving a high-five can reduce susceptibility to depression and anxiety, suggests Fredrickson. Humans crave connection, and these seemingly simple moments of oneness with another can provide just enough connection to satisfy that craving and leave both members of the exchange in a better place than they were pre-connection.
For some, compassion and kindness come easy. Although scientists have lots of theories about brain chemical combinations and receptor factors, they don’t fully understand the profoundly complex workings of the human brain and, as such, can’t really explain why some people jump to kindness while others are prone to react in anger. If you’re more prone to anger than you would like, putting some conscious effort into being compassionate could prove beneficial to both your relationship maintenance and your health.
If you’re quick to anger, reprogram your brain, suggests psychologist Elisha Goldstein, PhD. When you feel anger welling up, force yourself to stop and take a breath. When you do so, consciously reflect on the fact that you are okay and the issue about which you are going to erupt is minor. The more you practice this, the more effectively you can reprogram your brain to react differently in times of stress.
Do you want to extend your life while doing good for others? If a series of studies published in “BMC Public Health” is to be believed, volunteerism could help you do just that. In these studies, researchers found that regular volunteerism reduced rates of mortality by 22 percent. Studies suggested that the type of volunteerism didn’t really matter. What did make a difference, it would seem, was getting out in the community and giving back in some form. If you’ve been looking for a reason to sacrifice some leisure time to engage in volunteerism, this research should be a sound enough inducement.
Give yourself a quick burst of positive feelings with a simple gesture. Although it may be difficult to believe, doing something as simple as placing your hand over your heart can make a major difference. University of Texas associate professor, Kristen Neff, PhD argues that a natural mammalian response occurs when you make this gesture, leaving you feeling gentler and calmer and more connected to your inner self.
If it seems like you’re doing everything right, but you just aren’t feeling the positive effects of your good deeds, you may be making one minor misstep. Maintaining humility as you help is vital. If you’re giving to the poor, that’s wonderful. You must, however, put conscious effort into not thinking of yourself as superior to these individuals you are helping. Viewing yourself in a superior light creates a chasm between you and the people you are helping.
To truly reap the benefits of your kindness, you must recognize the similarities that you share with those on the receiving end of your good doing. If you find yourself struggling to maintain humility, look for things you have in common with the recipients of your goodwill. Perhaps you are both parents. Maybe you grew up in the same neighborhood. The more similarities you can find the better, as each will help you truly connect with those you are helping.