Survival of the Kindest

whitneywhitesurvival of the kindest

Being kind isn’t just something great to do for others. It’s fantastic for your overall wellbeing.

Are you battling anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, or coping with daily aches and pains?

Kindness is a powerful adjunct therapy if you’re struggling with these issues. Acts of kindness can absolutely have a positive impact on your overall health, serve as a preventative measure for mental and physical health, and help you add satisfaction and years to your life.

Even if you’re brand new to the idea of random acts of kindness (RAOK), volunteering, donating, or helping people out, it’s easy to get started and create a habit that you can stick with for your benefit and the benefit of others.

This is because kindness functions as an exercise that builds the “muscle” of compassion. After an act of kindness you’ll likely experience the “giver’s high”. This buzz of goodness is likely to keep you coming back for more, which will help you build the emotional muscle necessary to utilize kindness to help others and yourself on a regular basis.

Compassion isn’t the only positive emotion that we build from kindness. Gratitude, happiness, and feelings of worth are each tied to kindness. Performing acts of kindness are proven to bolster these feelings.

If it sounds a bit selfish to perform an act of kindness to help yourself out, focus on the bigger picture. It can literally change the world! When you do something kind for someone, the recipient benefits, you benefit from your “giver’s high”, and passersby see it and are positively impacted by it.

Just think about the last time you saw an article on social media or story on the news about something kind being done. Think back to how it made you feel. Pretty good, huh? It’s nice in the flood of somewhat negative news to see something positive happen. It restores faith in our fellow man and inspires us to do more. Our acts of kindness that others see also inspire more acts of kindness and more faith in each other. The research shows that when we observe morally inspiring behavior in others our sense of connection to others and our sense of purpose are improved. Win!

Science has proven that people who volunteer live longer and more satisfying lives. They have fewer aches and pains. In fact, giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. Older adults who volunteer have 44% lower probability of dying even after we account for factors like smoking, exercise, and gender.

Researchers have just begun to understand that we’re designed to be kind. Our parasympathetic autonomic nervous system contains a bundle of nerves called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve serves many important functions in the body, but some researchers have dubbed it the “care taking organ”.

The vagus nerve stimulates certain muscles in the vocal chamber, which enables communication. It reduces heart rate (so if an anxious person could activate it, goodbye rapid heart rate symptom!). Some research links it with oxytocin receptors, which are vital to bonding. Activation of the vagus nerve is associated with feelings of compassion and ethical intuition. People who have high vagus nerve activation while in states of rest are prone to feeling emotions that promote altruism such as compassion, gratitude, love, and happiness. Children with elevated vagus activity are more cooperative.

The vagus nerve is unique to mammals, too. It is likely that the vagus nerve is a physiological system that supports caretaking and altruism or selfless concern for the wellbeing of others. This still new science is evolving as researchers dig into it and the results are starting to support the idea that our physiological system evolved over time to support caregiving and altruism.

Why would our system evolve that way? My personal theory is that even in our earliest days we learned through experience that by taking care of each other and helping one another we promoted harmony that supported easier living in harsh times. Caretaking and kindness, even toward strangers, supports the continuation of our species. It isn’t about the survival of the fittest – it’s about the survival of the kindest.

Everyone knows that being kind is the “right” thing to do because we can see how the receiver is helped, but there is often little focus on how the giver or witnesses to the kindnesses are helped. It really is like dropping a rock into water – positive effects ripple out. What’s even better is that we’re designed to be kind. Kindness supports our health and helps us heal from feelings of anxiety, and promotes our happiness.

This week I’m encouraging everyone to flex their kindness muscle and to share it with #designedtobekind

 

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