The Impact of Being Kind

On first acquaintance, you would never guess that Lee had once suffered from depression. I met him at the gym, where he and I are regulars, and I was struck by how happy and positive he is every time we speak. After a while, I learned the secret of his route back to happiness: he is always helping people. He does this either individually – by offering lifts to medical appointments, or checking-in on neighbours living alone – or collectively – by volunteering at the local food bank and taking the initiative to cultivate the patch of green space outside his block of flats.  He gives unconditionally, every day, sometimes spontaneously and sometimes planned. Lee is the best example I know of someone who spreads kindness. But that’s not all. Much research confirms the fact that people like Lee benefit from their giving, perhaps just as much as those who receive it. It’s a win-win for all. So, how does this work scientifically?

Research suggests that putting others before ourselves stimulates the reward centre of the brain; feel good chemicals flood into our system producing a kind of ‘helpers high’. There are measurable physical benefits to this as well. The simple act of donating has been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve heart health.  A study with two groups of hypertensive subjects went as follows: each group was given money. Group A were told to spend it on themselves, while Group B were told to spend it on others. As a result, Group B reaped measurable physical benefits, equivalent to what might be expected from improvements in diet and increased levels of exercise. Furthermore, researchers have found that a diversity of acts of kindness is more rewarding than sticking with one type. It seems that spreading yourself thinly is not a bad thing after all.

“A single act of kindness throws out root in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.  The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves” Frederick Willam Faber

And it doesn’t need to be onerous: here are some things most of us can easily do.

  • Give an unexpected compliment
  • Pay the toll for the car behind
  • Help someone struggling to carry their bags
  • Give up your seat on the bus/train
  • Plant a tree
  • Listen – really listen – to a friend having a tough time. (No trying to fix it or talking back…)
  • Smile

If you want more ideas check out The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website -

I found it difficult to believe that Lee ever suffered from depression – the result of an accident at work that led to him leaving his job and spending a lot of time in pain at home alone.  He puts his recovery down to medical help, yes, but he says the critical factor was deciding to get out and start volunteering. Since then, he has never stopped giving. It has been positive reinforcement for him and brings happiness to those with whom he has contact.

So, what act of kindness are you going to do today?  I’m off to litter-pick on my way to and from the shop where, if the opportunity arises, I will happily let someone take my place in the queue.