Research tells us that acts of giving and kindness â€“ small and large â€“ are associated with positive mental well-being, according to NHS Choices. Â Giving to others and co-operating with them can stimulate the reward areas in the brain, helping to create positive feelings. A 2005 review ofÂ research on altruism and its relation to mental and physical health found a strong correlation between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who are emotionally and behaviourally compassionate, so long as they are not overwhelmed by helping tasks.
- promote positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness
These rushes are often followed by longer periods of calm and can eventually lead to better wellbeing. Helping others improves social support, encourages us to lead a more physically active lifestyle, distracts us from our own problems, allows us to engage in a meaningful activity and improves our self-esteem and competence.
- bring a sense of belonging and reduces isolation
Being a part of a social network leads to a feeling of belonging. Face-to-face activities such as volunteering at a drop-in centre can help reduce loneliness and isolation.
- help to keep things in perspective
Helping others in need, especially those who are less fortunate than yourself, can provide a real sense of perspective and make you realise how lucky you are, enabling you to stop focusing on what you feel you are missing – helping you to achieve a more positive outlook on the things that may be causing you stress.
- improve confidence, control, happiness and optimism
It can also encourage others to repeat the good deed that they have experienced themselves â€“ it contributes to a more positive community.
- the more you do for others, the more you do for yourself
Evidence shows that the benefits of helping others can last long after the act itself by providing a â€˜kindness bankâ€™ of memories that can be drawn upon in the future.
how to feel better with kindness
AÂ simple thing to try is the ‘counting kindnesses intervention’. A Â 2007 Japanese study asked participants to keep track of each act of kindness they performed during one week, and to note any gratitude at receiving kindnesses from others. Â The study found thatÂ simply by counting acts of kindness for one week, people appear to become happier and more grateful.
I will be testing the counting kindnesses intervention by committing random acts of kindness during the forthcoming week, and charting my progress on the Depression LabÂ Experiments page. If you’d like to join in, that would be great, please get in touch.