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How Random Acts of Kindness Can Benefit Your Health

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My daughter and I were on our way back to our apartment when she suddenly slipped on wet concrete in the garage. She would be confined to a wheelchair and crutches for the next several weeks. A week before her fall, I had severely sprained my left shoulder. I wasn't able to get her wheelchair into or out of my car without assistance. For weeks, I had to ask random people to help me. I was incredibly touched by how everyone was so helpful, without any hesitation. There were times when people would offer assistance, without me even asking.

I know how happy I feel when I get the chance to help others, and by the display of kindness that I received, it seemed that others felt the same way. My medical mind began to ponder. I wondered, "What happens to our bodies, physiologically, when helping others through random acts of kindness, and what are the mechanisms that are activated when this happens?" I was on a mission to find my answers.

Research reveals that doing good deeds, or kind acts, can make socially-anxious people feel better. For four weeks, the University of British Columbia researchers assigned people with high levels of anxiety to do kind acts for other people at least six times a week. The acts of kindness included things like holding the door open for someone, doing chores for other people, donating to charity, and buying lunch for a friend. The researchers found that doing nice things for people led to a significant increase in people's positive moods. It also led to an increase in relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance in socially anxious individuals. [1]

"People who engage in kind acts become happier over time," says Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. "When you are kind to others, you feel good as a person -- more moral, optimistic, and positive," she says. Lyubomirsky has studied happiness for over 20 years. Her research, presented at the recent annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in New Orleans, found that performing other positive acts once a week led to the most happiness. [2]

According to Dr. David R. Hamilton, acts of kindness create an emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and, therefore, oxytocin is known as a "cardioprotective" hormone. It protects the heart by lowering blood pressure. [3]

Researcher Stephen Post of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine serves as president of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, which conducts and funds research on altruism, compassion and service. His research shows that when we give of ourselves, especially if we start young, everything from life satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly improved. Mortality is delayed, depression is reduced and well-being and good fortune are increased. [4]

Monica Advani, the director and owner of the Global Montessori Preschool in Westwood, teaches kindness to her children beginning at a very young age. Whenever she notices one child doing a random act of kindness to another, she writes it in the kindness book. During line time, she will read it and thank those children involved with the positive action. She says, "this motivates and inspires other
children to do the same."

The moral of the story is to be kind and do kind acts for others. You can benefit your heart, reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and simply be a happier human being. Who wouldn't want that? This blog was inspired by my 11-year-old daughter and is dedicated to all of those people who helped me with her wheelchair. You know who you are. Thank you very much for your kindness!

References:

1. http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/emotional-health/doing-kind-acts-reduces-anxiety-study
2. http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2013/01/24/acts-of-kindness-can-make-you-happier
3. http://drdavidhamilton.com/
4. http://blog.case.edu/case-news/2007/06/01/postbook

For more by Priya Advani, click here.

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