We know that it feels good when someone is kind to us, but thanks to brain studies and scientific research we know that kindness activates positive neurotransmitters in our brains. Our brains literally light up when we experience kindness. Even better: by being kind we actually get a bigger boost of the ‘feel good’ factor. And, even just witnessing an act of kindness has a positive impact on our brains. Kindness really is a powerful force.
The happy monk
When researchers scanned the brain of Matthieu Ricard, a 66-year old Tibetan monk they concluded he was the world’s happiest man because his brain produced gamma waves never before seen in neuroscience. The secret of his happiness? He spends much of his time meditating on compassion, or what Buddhists call ‘loving-kindness’.
The happy monk goes to prove that practising kindness and compassion actually makes us happy.
So what happens to our brain?
When we experience kindness, a hormone called dopamine (the feel-good hormone) is released, along with serotonin (the happy chemical) and endorphins (the body’s natural pain killer) which gives us that boost of happiness and wellbeing. Oxytocin (the love hormone) is also released which gives us a feeling of connection, kinship and trust. At the same time the stress hormone cortisol (the hormone that prepares you for flight or fight) decreases.
Next time you find yourself being kind to someone or experiencing kindness, just remember the incredible processes going on in the brain. Being kind really does make a difference to how we feel.
And the best bit…
When scientists scan the brains of people who have done an act of kindness, they find that the reaction in the brain is even more profound. Altruism lights up a whole spectrum of the brain.
Being kind to someone in need can make us feel good partly because we instinctively don’t like to see people sad, nervous, anxious or stressed, and we feel relief when we help them. We are putting something right, and we feel like a better person, more complete.
Furthermore, studies in neuroscience also show that when we witness an act of kindness we also get a brain boost. We can probably all attest to this. Who hasn’t felt warm and fuzzy when they’ve seen an elderly person being helped to their feet after a fall, watched a nurse show compassion to a worried relative, seen an injured animal on tv nursed back to life?
When we see acts of kindness our brains have the opposite reaction to when we see negative, cruel and critical exchanges where our brains are flooded with stress inducing cortisol.
Keep being kind
The effect kindness has on our brains unfortunately doesn’t last for days, that’s why kindness is something to practice and work into our daily routine. So why not catch someone’s eye with a reassuring smile, buy your colleague a coffee, give up your seat on that busy train, pop round to see your neighbour, take the bins out, write a love post-it note to your partner or give the cat an extra cuddle?
Something to try
Did you know that according to science smiles are contagious, and just by smiling we feel happier? Adrienne Wood, a Ph.D. student in psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said: “When you see a facial expression and you want to know what it means, you recreate that expression in your brain”. Try smiling at people today and see what reaction you get. Do you see a smile back? Probably. And you’ll feel happier yourself.