In a world where more and more people live in large anonymous cities and the news feels overbearing most of the time, it can seem like no one is truly connecting anymore. Isolation and loneliness are growing social problems, and in an increasingly technology-addicted society, this isolation has led to an increase in mental health issues, a rise in hate crime, and a deeper divide between people. On World Kindness Day, I want to discuss how small acts of kindness everyday can help us feel better in a world which appears out of sorts, as well as help others around us, with the hopes that we can build a nicer, more connected world.
Science has proven again and again that kindness is an incredible way to make others feel better as well as something that helps our own wellbeing. Experiments have repeatedly shown that a simple act of kindness leads to the production of serotonin and the decrease of cortisol. In non-science speak, this means that you are happier and less stressed, simply by taking a few seconds out of your day to help someone. This can be as small as genuinely smiling to a stranger or telling a friend you love them. Helping people also activates the pleasure and reward centres of the brain (Rilling et al., 2002), the same ones which are stimulated when your phone buzzes with a notification or by addiction to drugs. Scientists call this the “helper’s high” (Luks, 1988). Furthermore, with repeated acts of kindness, blood pressure is reduced (Hamilton, 2017). Therefore, helping others brings happiness to both the receiver and the giver.
To top it all off, simply seeing an act of kindness can be enough to get the rush of the oxytocin hormone which leads to a warm feeling of happiness and love. When I lived in Edinburgh, I was able to experience this feeling first hand, as I regularly witnessed people taking time out of their day to simply have conversations with homeless people. This small act of recognition and kindness to a stranger would brighten my day and it remains one of my main takeaways from my time in Scotland. Therefore, it is possible to literally spread happiness, through simple acts of kindness, improving the lives of others around us as well as helping ourselves.
The non-profit sector offers an incredible chance to give to others and to help in a small or large way to make the world a better place. Volunteering has even shown to increase life expectancy (Musick et al., 1999, Piliavin and Siegl, 2007), having a larger effect on your lifespan than exercising four times a week! In this way, the non-profit sector offers to many the opportunity to help with the cause that they hold dearest to their hearts, while also ensuring a better lifestyle for themselves. Charities, therefore, can help a lot in these darker times to help bring people together, as well as teach how simple acts can help everyone.
These lessons are of particular importance these days, to ensure people remember to help one another. Too many news stories around the world centre around societies tearing each other apart. However, I am also constantly amazed at the selflessness of humans after large disasters, as strangers come together to donate blood, build new houses, help transport others or simply support each other during hard times. Large devastating events can lead to the kindness of humans to be expressed, in a heart-warming way. This blog post is an appeal for this kindness to be expressed every day of the year, as the simpler acts of kindness can hopefully bring more personal happiness, and lead to more conversation, with the hope to prevent some of the disasters we witness more and more.
In these moments, I remember that it is possible to be kind every day. My mother has always impressed me with her capacity for kindness. She is the type of person who will stop to help someone with directions or ask if someone needs help to carry their belongings. She always stops and helps, when most would simply keep walking in the busy city. This quality is one I hope to emulate, particularly today on World Kindness day. The hope is that if everyone practices kindness, both to others and themselves for 1 minute a day every day, this could lead to a happier, less stressed and better linked society.
Blog post by Charityworks 2018 trainee, Lea Hampton-O’Neil, Digital and IT graduate at Guide Dogs UK.