National Random Acts of Kindness Day 2024

Some people might think that National Random Acts of Kindness Day was started to counter the nastiness that now characterizes politics in America. They would be incorrect. According to the staff at There is a Day for That, “Random Act of Kindness Day was first established in 1995 by the nonprofit Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. It originated in Denver, Colorado, and in 2004, spread to New Zealand. The idea and celebration continued to spread and is officially celebrated on February 17th in the United States.” The staff adds, “The day is meant to cultivate feelings of kindness towards others and brighten up their day. Every act is significant, no matter how big or small. Many scientific studies have shown that being kind and showing random acts of kindness can go a long way for others and yourself. It can improve others’ moods and make them more likely to ‘pay it forward’ for others.” The organization makes resources available to help people spread awareness of random acts of kindness in different settings including school, work and home. To help celebrate the day, the staff prepared the following video.

 

 

Studies have shown that being kind is good for one’s mental, emotional, and physical health. According to the staff at the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK), kindness increases:

 

• Oxytocin (the love hormone). The RAK staff notes that just “witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, … which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health. Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism, which is extra helpful when we’re anxious or shy in a social situation.” Journalist Natalie Angier writes, “Be thankful for your brain’s supply of oxytocin, the small, celebrated peptide hormone that, by the looks of it, helps lubricate our every prosocial exchange, the thousands of acts of kindness, kind-of kindness and not-as-nakedly-venal-as-I-could-have-been kindness that make human society possible.”[1]

 

• Energy. We could all use a boost in energy. Christine Carter, Vice President, Transformation Science and Practice at BetterUp, explains, “About half of participants in one study reported that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth.”[2]

 

• Lifespan. Thanks to a number of factors, including the pandemic, lifespans in the U.S. have been decreasing. Kind acts could help change that trend. Carter observes, “People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.”

 

• Pleasure. Whether we admit it or not, we all like to experience pleasure. The RAK staff reports, “According to research from Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up, as if you were the recipient of the good deed — not the giver. This phenomenon is called the ‘helper’s high.’” Journalist Lizette Borreli, reporting on a study conducted by Katherine Nelson-Coffey, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of the South, writes, “The findings revealed participants who performed acts of kindness, whether for the world or for others, were more likely to report feeling happy or to experience improvement in their mood than were the control group and those who were kind to themselves. In fact, those who treated themselves did not see any improvement in well-being or positive emotions.”[3]

 

• Serotonin. Depressed? Performing acts of kindness can help. The RAK staff reports, “Like most medical antidepressants, kindness stimulates the production of serotonin. This feel-good chemical heals your wounds, calms you down, and makes you happy!” Psychologist Talya Steinberg, adds, “Acts of kindness are basic to every moral code and are probably so for a good reason. Recent research suggests that kindness may improve resiliency by promoting feelings of happiness and peace and supporting immunity.”[4]

 

If benefiting from good health benefits is not enough to get you to be kinder, you might also be interested in learning that being kind helps to reduce bad health effects. Kindness decreases:

 

• Pain. Unless you are a masochist, pain is not welcome in your life. Performing acts of kindness might help. Psychologist Steve Siegle explains, “Endorphins, your body’s natural painkiller, may be released when you show kindness.”[5]

 

• Stress and Aging. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel some sort of stress on a daily basis. The RAK staff points to a study that found, “Perpetually kind people have 23% less cortisol (the stress hormone) and age slower than the average population!”

 

• Anxiety. Stress and anxiety are fellow travelers. The RAK staff points to a study conducted by University of British Columbia Clinical psychology professor Lynn Alden and clinical psychologist Jennifer Trew. During their study, “A group of highly anxious individuals performed at least six acts of kindness a week. After one month, there was a significant increase in positive moods, relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance in socially anxious individuals.”[6]

 

• Depression. Depression is a serious problem often requiring professional help. If you need help, get it. Fortunately, many celebrities have recently shared their experiences. Also consider being more kind. The RAK staff reports, “Stephen Post, [formerly with] Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, found that when we give of ourselves, 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.”[7]

 

• Blood Pressure. According to the RAK staff, “Committing acts of kindness lowers blood pressure.” Once again, oxytocin plays a role. Chemist David R. Hamilton explains, “Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone, oxytocin, in the brain and throughout the body. Of recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system. 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). The key is that acts kindness can produce oxytocin and therefore kindness can be said to be cardioprotective.”[8]

 

Dr. Siegle concludes, “I’d like to leave you with this quote by the Dalai Lama: ‘Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.’” During this presidential election year, I know it will be impossible to ignore self-centered, uncivil politicians. But you don’t have to join them in their incivility. The Dalai Lama was right, it’s always possible to be kind.

 

Footnotes
[1] Natalie Angier, “The Biology Behind the Milk of Human Kindness,” The New York Times, 24 November 2009.
[2] Christine Carter, Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, Ballantine Books Trade Paperbacks, 1 March 2011.
[3] Lizette Borreli, “Random Acts Of Kindness Raise Dopamine Levels And Boost Your Mood,” Medical Daily, 26 April 2016
[4] Talya Steinberg, “Practicing Acts of Kindness,” Psychology Today, 20 November 2012.
[5] Steve Siegle, “The art of kindness,” Mayo Clinic Health System, 17 August 2023.
[6] Katie Coopersmith, “Kindness may help socially anxious people relax, says new research by Dr. Lynn Alden,” University of British Columbia Study, Department of Psychology, 10 July 2015.
[7] Stephen Post, “Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to Be Good,” ResearchGate, February 2005.
[8] David R. Hamilton, “The 5 Side Effects of Kindness,” drdavidhamilton.com, 30 May 2011.

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