Why Being Kind to Strangers is So Important for Your Brain
Kindness is great for your brain, and there are enough scientific, social, and cultural reasons behind that which perhaps you are already aware of. Indeed, one of the first values that parents everywhere try to build in their children is kindness.
Yet as we grow up, we find our ability and scope of kindness decreasing day by day. In our fast-paced day and age, kindness is most often limited to people we know – our parents, kids, spouse, friends, co-workers – and not strangers. As we try to navigate our way through the various challenges life throws at us, we tend to grow more self-centred and caught up in our more problems to care about others, much less strangers. So the kindness we share with the world too becomes measured, driven by specific reasons and in many cases self-serving.
February 17 is designated as Random Acts of Kindness Day in the USA. It celebrates a phenomenon that is increasingly rare in today’s world – showing unconditional kindness to unrelated or unknown people without expectation of any profit or return. It can be anything from helping an old person with their shopping cart to donating to a charity. On this occasion, let us remind ourselves why it is important to be kind, even in situations where no one expects you to.
The benefits of kindness
Kindness is one of those amazing gifts that only bear fruit when shared. In fact, multiple studies show that the person doing the act of kindness often gets benefited much more in terms of brain development than the one receiving the material reward of the act.
- Kindness gives us what in common parlance is called a ‘helper’s high’ – namely a surge of happy hormones in our brain. Dopamine, Serotonin, and endogenous opioids are released when you engage in kind behaviour, all of which has significant contribution in helping you feel calm, reducing pain, and strengthening your executive functions and motivation.
- Kind behaviour releases Oxytocin, which helps establish and strengthen the bond between the people engaged in the said behaviour (the giver and the receiver), thereby reinforcing the community-building instinct.
- Kindness reduces stress and anxiety. In fact, engaging in kind behaviour while in a stressful frame of mind can dramatically reduce those negative feelings by stemming the surge of cortisol and other stress-response chemicals in your brain.
Why we need to ‘practice’ kindness
Much like all things to do with our brain, kindness also grows in practice. The more we share kindness, the more capacity for kindness we create in our brain. Here’s why we should make kindness a habit, and not just one limited to our close circle.
- The science of neuroplasticity teaches us that, repeating a behaviour routinely changes the structure of your brain in the long run. Each small act of kindness we mindfully practice, makes us a little more capable of being automatically kind in future.
- Kindness creates a ripple effect that is beneficial to a much larger scale than we can even conceive. Several studies have shown that receiving kindness, or even witnessing kindness behaviour in other people can benefit humans, and in turn creates a desire for repeating the same behaviour. So your small act of kindness today can actually inspire a great many number of people to behave kindly. This ripple effect of kind behaviour strengthens the community as a whole, and brings a lot of people closer in a positive way.
- When you do something kind for someone expecting something in return, that is essentially transactional behaviour. It gives you a ‘high’ alright, but that is quite little compared to the surge of positivity your brain receives when your actions are completely altruistic, and that high is a lot more beneficial for your body and brain.
So let’s pause a little today, and take a good look at our surroundings. Everybody needs a little help to get by, why not be that one to provide that help? They will thank you, and so will your brain!