Acts of kindness may not be that random after all. Science says being kind pays off - and in more ways than you might think.
Scientific research is booming into human kindness and what scientists have found so far speaks well of us, reports AP News.
Research shows that acts of kindness make us feel better and healthier. Kindness is also key to how we evolved and survived as a species, scientists say. We are hard-wired to be kind.
Kindness “is as bred in our bones as our anger or our lust or our grief or as our desire for revenge,” said University of California San Diego psychologist Michael McCullough, author of the forthcoming book “Kindness of Strangers.” It’s also, he said, “the main feature we take for granted.”
“Kindness is much older than religion. It does seem to be universal,” said University of Oxford anthropologist Oliver Curry, research director at Kindlab. “The basic reason why people are kind is that we are social animals.”
We prize kindness over any other value. When psychologists lumped values into ten categories and asked people what was more important, benevolence or kindness, comes out on top, beating hedonism, having an exciting life, creativity, ambition, tradition, security, obedience, seeking social justice and seeking power, said University of London psychologist Anat Bardi, who studies value systems.
“We’re kind because under the right circumstances we all benefit from kindness,” Oxford’s Curry said.
When it comes to a species’ survival “kindness pays, friendliness pays,” said Duke University evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare, author of the new book “Survival of the Friendliest.”
Kindness and cooperation work for many species, whether it’s bacteria, flowers or our fellow primate bonobos. The more friends you have, the more individuals you help, the more successful you are, Hare said.
Reasoning “is the secret ingredient, which is why we donate blood when there are disasters” and why most industrialised nations spend at least 20% of their money on social programmes, such as housing and education, McCullough said.
But overall our bodies aren’t just programmed to be nice, they reward us for being kind, scientists said.
“Doing kindness makes you happier and being happier makes you do kind acts,” said economist Richard Layard, who studies happiness at the London School of Economics and wrote the new book “Can We Be Happier?”
University of California Riverside psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky has put that concept to the test in numerous experiments over 20 years and repeatedly found that people feel better when they are kind to others, even more than when they are kind to themselves.
“Acts of kindness are very powerful,” Lyubomirsky said.
In one experiment, she asked subjects to do an extra three acts of kindness for other people a week and asked a different group to do three acts of self-kindness. They could be small, like opening a door for someone, or big. But the people who were kind to others became happier and felt more connected to the world.
The same occurred with money, using it to help others versus helping yourself. Lyubomirsky said she thinks it is because people spend too much time thinking and worrying about themselves and when they think of others while doing acts of kindness, it redirects them away from their own problems.
Oxford’s Curry analysed peer-reviewed research like Lyubomirsky’s and found at least 27 studies showing the same thing: Being kind makes people feel better emotionally.
But it’s not just emotional. It’s physical.
Lyubomirsky said a study of people with multiple sclerosis and found they felt better physically when helping others. She also found that in people doing more acts of kindness that the genes that trigger inflammation were turned down more than in people who don’t.
And she said in upcoming studies, she’s found more antiviral genes in people who performed acts of kindness.