Your kindness is what is actually giving you more happiness and longer healthier life. So you didn't save just one life but two.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on January 31, 2020. It has since been updated.
Did you know that all those times you allowed your kind nature to shine bright, sometimes even at your own expense, you weren't just helping others but you were also doing something good for yourself? Like that time you might have risked being late to an important event because you wanted to help someone with a heavy load of groceries. Or the time you gave up your seat on a bus for someone who needed it more despite the fact you would have to stand for a long time. Well, doing all of that or variations of it actually has health benefits for you. Hard to believe? Well, there's a new study which states that every time you do kind things for others, you actually reduce your own physical pain.
Researchers from several Chinese universities came together to examine why humans might act altruistically at their own expense. During a number of tests, they found a surprising link between charitable actions and pain sensitivity and management. Their work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), discovered some insights into different reasons why we may choose to give or help others at the cost of our own livelihood. They found that “acting altruistically relieved not only acutely-induced physical pain among healthy adults, but also chronic pain among cancer patients.”
This effect was shown in their first test almost immediately. Results were found after individuals were reported to have experienced more pain when having blood drawn for regular lab tests compared to when their blood was drawn for donations to earthquake victims, despite the fact that the needle used was larger and the quantity of blood taken was greater in the donation subjects compared to the test-taking subjects.
In another test, subjects were asked whether they would participate in an altruistic activity (revising a handbook for the children of migrant workers). The test groups were sorted by those who chose to (altruistic), those who chose not to (non-altruistic), and those who did so as a mandate (control). After sinking their hands into cold water, the participants were asked to report their pain every 15 seconds after a reminder. And again it was seen that the altruistic group experienced the smallest degree of pain. It was also the altruistic group that managed on average to keep their hand submerged in cold water the longest.
After a battery of more tests, the researchers came up with this conclusion — "Our research has revealed that in adverse situations, such as those that are physically threatening, acting altruistically can relieve unpleasant feelings, such as physical pain, in human performers of altruistic acts from both the behavioral and neural perspectives. The finding that the incurrence of a personal cost to help others may buffer performers of altruistic acts from unpleasant conditions contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of human altruism.” Essentially, your kindness and altruism towards others can help you physically.
But this isn't the first time kindness has been proven to have health benefits.
1. Increase in oxytocin
According to SF Advanced Health, your kind acts can cause an increase in the happy hormone, oxytocin. Dr. David Hamilton says in his blog, “Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure).”
2. Reduced risk of chronic stress
Additionally, when you're kind to someone, as the oxytocin increases, the stress hormone, cortisol drops. Essentially, your stress levels all reduce and in the long run can keep you from developing conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer which are all caused or escalated by stress.
3. It's good for your mental health and for reducing anxiety
Doing nice things for others can boost your serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being. It also releases endorphins, a phenomenon known as “helper’s high.” So the more kind acts you perform, the easier you might find it to be happier. Additionally, being kind can also help reduce your anxiety according to a study conducted by the University of British Columbia.
So you just continue to be nice to others because not only are you giving them some joy, you're also taking care of your own health. This nature of yours is a rare one in a world of chaos and hatred. The world needs people like you.