Whether you believe in karma or not, there’s no doubt that the world’s major religions and our basic human morality suggest we be nice to others. ‘Do unto others as you would yourself’ is the mantra taught to Brownies and Beavers across the land. And while it’s a lovely idea for our society, there may be a more selfish reason for being kind - it’s good for your health...
Doing something kind for others has been found to reduce stress and improve your mental health. Lowering your stress levels cuts down on stress symptoms that can cause you physical and emotional troubles, improving your overall outlook.
[Related story: How to be happy all the time]
A study of churchgoers, for last year’s ‘Be Kind to Humankind Week’, found that people who are in the frame of mind to offer love and support to others have better mental health than those less inclined to offer kindness. It was even found to have the physical effect of increasing dopamine in the brain, making us feel calmer and happier. Kindness also ups our self worth and reduces nagging doubts and worries.
It stands to reason - looking outwards and addressing the problems of others means we spend less of our time and energy on our own neuroses and anxieties, making us less likely to experience depression. Plus, it’s a positive cycle. As other people’s moods are likely to be improved by your good deed, you reap the benefits of their positivity.
But don’t go overboard! The study also found that if you give beyond your means, it can have a negative effect on your health and happiness.
Scientists believe this policy of altruism is integral to human interactions. They have suggested it evolved to help us mate (by proving to potential partners that we’d make great parents) and that it helps society work better for everyone – reducing the amount of work individuals have to shoulder on their own.
So be nice - it’ll help you bag a partner and give you more free time…!