Kindness in the scientific world
- September 16, 2022
The planet experienced a lot of changes (negative and positive) due to the pandemic, although some might have been reversed. One of the good things coming out of halts coerced by the pandemic is that humans have begun to embrace kindness a little more. Homo sapiens have learned to choose compassion.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when discussing the topic because kindness is closely linked to genes and experience. So, let’s start by understanding more about it.
Kindness and Humans
History has given enough proof that humankind has been extremely merciful, affectionate, and kind. But now scientists have found that being kind is closely related to a particular gene titled – the kindness gene. The level of compassion and love humans exhibit is dependent upon the kindness gene. Experience and surroundings play a crucial role in developing it for others, but the kindness gene is the dominant factor. We could also say that experience and environment stimulate kindness in humans.
The gene manages oxytocin. Oxytocin is a compound associated with trustworthiness, empathy, and selfless behavior.
Kindness and Science
“We should help them, they seem distressed.” This sentence might spark a conversation with oneself, family, or even friends. And you get the feeling of ecstasy after helping someone in need. Did you know that there is a scientific explanation for this? Kind actions release hormones that drive our mood and overall health. So, it is not just you but also the chemicals inside your brain which also get elated after helping a person in need.
Oxytocin as catalyst
Oxytocin is a chemical that majorly drives the feeling of satisfaction and ecstasy. It is often called the ‘love hormone’. It is pivotal in making networks or connections with beings around us and also trusting them. The chemical is released when humans are connected deeply and physically intimate. Oxytocin is the reason for trusting others, being generous, friendly as mentioned earlier and it also lowers our blood pressure.
Kind actions and compassion for others can also release oxytocin. Thus, helping humans de-stress and be less anxious.
What can kindness do for us?
Our elders try to explain it from a religious or cultural perspective and might use folklore to inculcate morals, but due to a more logical mind, we might try to debunk it with our questions or responses. Also, you must have often heard from your parents that we must have a giving hand instead of a taking one. However, when we see them being kind, we might not like it and question them.
Since it is difficult to blindly follow the footsteps of our ancestors, we try to answer the questions about kindness scientifically and we will bust the myths around it with a logical as well as rational approach.
There are many tangible benefits of kindness. People who volunteer for social projects or spend resources on people around them feel happy and less pain. It can also prevent heart disease by decreasing blood pressure.
Kindness is free
There is no side effect or negative impact of being generous or having a giving attitude. Being kind to people does not involve a pile of money. It is free and does not require investing money. There is no financial aspect and it does not matter how much you can contribute. It is contagious and if a person initiates something, it can be picked by others around.
Moreover, kindness as a virtue can be nurtured. A human can develop or increase his capacity to be kind or affectionate to others. Even though we’re born with it, we can make kindness a habit, an integral part of our life.
Body’s response to kindness – cardioprotective agent
Acts of kindness induce the activity of neurotransmitters inside the brain. One of them is Oxytocin. As said earlier oxytocin is responsible for making us feel connected and trust others. This hormone plays a major role in helping the community bond and it generates the feeling of togetherness.
The transmitter is also responsible for lowering blood pressure. It dilates the blood vessels allowing more oxygen to reach the heart, thus improving cardiovascular health. We can also call kindness cardioprotective, as it protects the heart. Furthermore, it strengthens the immune system, energizes the body, reduces aches or pains, and can lead to higher life expectancy. Empathy can also make us feel good about ourselves and can boost self-esteem.
You might be wondering if only oxytocin is the sole chemical or if this is the logical explanation for our bond with kindness. But this is not the end.
There are more neurotransmitters, like Serotonin, and endorphins.
Serotonin, but why?
Remember the last time you were kind to someone you got the feeling of satisfaction and achievement. This is because of serotonin. This chemical is used to help treat anxiety, depression, and stress. Serotonin is comforting and makes you feel at ease.
Endorphins – a drug of fitness freaks!
It is a chemical released in the brains of people who go for the long run. They experience ‘runner’s high’ and it is because of endorphins. An act of kindness also releases endorphins and is termed ‘helper’s high’ but it gives a similar feeling.
Cortisol – The stress neurotransmitter
It is another chemical that has both negative and positive effects. Cortisol primarily helps the body in dealing with stressful situations and prepares the body to deal with them. However, people are extremely stressed due to workload along with an imbalance in their professional and personal life. This has only increased after the pandemic. Not just work, but disturbing news of violence against animals, lynching, killing, crimes against people, etc. are also distressing. Such things can increase stress thus cortisol levels rise.
Also, this chemical is in charge of storing fat in the belly and accelerates the aging process. So, decreasing cortisol levels in the body is a favorable situation. The production of cortisol can be easily reduced with help of kindness. Hence, kindness can reduce stress, help in losing weight, and age at a decreased rate.
Kindness as medicine
Kindness can solve many health issues and disorders without any side effects. Humans exhibiting kind nature do not face any drawbacks, but they need to be careful about helping others at the cost of their well-being. A human is kind to himself when he is not sacrificing his needs just to help others.
Kindness in the long run
Kindness and consistency are very closely related. You will not see results by helping others only a few times. Although it does not take time to learn, developing it as a natural reflexive muscle will take time.
Living in a stressful environment can be problematic but we can easily overcome it with a positive attitude. As mentioned earlier, whenever a human is feeling stressed, anxious, or worried the body starts to release cortisol. It is an appropriate response but excess of this neurotransmitter can lead to different issues in the long run. An ideal situation is a moderate level of cortisol and increased levels of happy hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.
Diverting your energy to focus on positive things in life can help in reducing stress levels. The adage ‘energy flows where your attention goes and your attention goes where your energy flows.’ is true and applicable in the present. So, if you will purposely think about being helpful, kind, generous, and merciful, you will find more opportunities and situations to make a difference.
Gratitude is a good remedy for anxiety. When you feel uneasy or fretting over something try to be grateful and you will feel the difference.
What does it mean to be at the receiving end?
It is often said giving is better than receiving. When we are at the receiving end of kindness we feel a boost of the same neurotransmitters – oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. But their level is lesser than what is generated when we give or be kind to others. As a receiver of kindness, the person is filled with self-esteem and feels acknowledged, appreciated as well as valued. These feelings are very positive and they help us feel connected. When you are at the receiving end of kindness oxytocin levels rise which in turn increases warmth and feeling of connection. This inspires to reciprocate or induces a “pay it forward” mentality.
Therefore, being at the receiving end can generate positive hormones. Moreover, even when we are observing someone’s kind action or generosity, we feel motivated to do the same which also produces positive neurotransmitters.
“Be kind” might sound pretty basic, but these 2 words can have a major impact on our lives. Have you discovered #TheKindnessGene in you?