It’s a stressful time at the moment. Most people think the opposite of stress is calm and relaxed, but these are the absence of stress. Physiologically and behaviourally, kindness is the opposite of stress. Research shows that as one increases, the other decreases. Stress produces the hormones cortisol and adrenalin, which increase blood pressure, suppress the immune system, tense the nervous system and trigger depression. Whereas kindness produces oxytocin which decreases blood pressure, lifts the immune system, relaxes the nervous system and reduces the risk of depression.
Kindness elevates the immune system. A study where volunteers watched Mother Theresa carrying out humanitarian acts on the streets of Calcutta, showed that s-IgA levels (a component of the immune system) had significantly increased after watching the film. So even watching kindness gives us feelings that promote the immune system, whereas feelings of stress can suppress it.
Another factor is ageing – as we know stress accelerates ageing – this damage is caused by ‘free radicals’. High levels of oxytocin (produced by kindness) on the other hand keep free radicals down so is a natural way to feel young!
Results of surveys from 200,000 people from around the world showed that those who gave money to charity were happier than people who didn’t, even after taking into account their financial situation. Giving money to charity made as much difference to happiness as having twice as much income. Increasing happiness by giving, works much better when there’s a connection – i.e. if you can envision how your money is helping. One of our advent activities was to choose a charity to donate to. My 7 year old choose Save the Children after watching videos about it, and my 5 year old wanted to “Save the Unicorns”! …So we chose the RSPCA!
It’s not all about donating money though. Almost half of UK adults say that their busy lives stop them from connecting with other people. We can all play a part to tackle loneliness. And it’s incredibly simple. Research shows even small moments of connection can improve someone’s well-being and help tackle loneliness. Small moments can make a big difference. A smile and a hello can lift someone’s day.