Humans are social and empathetic creatures and for many of us, being nice is just part of being human. It isn't necessarily a conscious decision, and it doesn't mean we're constantly selfless, but thinking of others and trying to help is woven through our daily lives.
What happens in the brain when you're kind?
The psychology of kindness is very interesting. Performing a random act of kindness has been scientifically shown to make you feel happier.
Cooperating with others or deciding to be generous activates an area of the brain called the striatum. This area responds to things we find rewarding. The ‘warm glow’ we get from helping others corresponds with activity we see in the striatum and researchers think that this is likely the biological basis of that feeling.
How does being kind to someone improve mood?
Being kind to someone is an opportunity to strengthen a friendship or make a social connection, both of which are linked to improved mood.
And if your act of kindness works, then a shared smile also works to make you feel happier. A key theory in neuroscience suggests that seeing someone else show an emotion automatically activates the same areas of our own brain. It’s almost as if we experienced that particular emotion for ourselves.
But it's not just being nice to someone in person that feels good. Research has also shown that spending extra money on other people may be more powerful in increasing happiness than spending it on yourself.
How can I improve my mental wellbeing using kindness?
Put your phone away and start a conversation
It’s easy to spend an empty moment checking your notifications, but empathy researcher and author Roman Krznaric suggests using this time to chat with new people instead. He even suggests starting a conversation with a stranger on public transport to “cultivate curiosity”. Loneliness is a growing epidemic - you never know what your conversation might do for someone else’s day. And if that person needs their quiet time, they’ll likely let you know so it’s always worth a try.
Listening makes for kinder conversation. The more empathetic you are, the more of a social connection you can build with the person you’re talking to. Writer Joel Snape suggests:
“Next time you find yourself in this sort of back-and-forth, force yourself to slow the conversation and consider what your opposite number’s saying, rather than waiting for the first opportunity to get your point across. Try to work out what you can learn from the points they’re making – and ask questions to understand them better.”
Buy someone a gift
If you can’t find time to make a connection with someone new or perhaps you’re working from home and so are unlikely to speak to someone face to face, gifting could be a solution. As mentioned above, research has shown that spending extra money on other people may be more powerful in increasing happiness than spending it on yourself, so a thoughtful gift may well help you and your friend. If you’re feeling extra generous, you could even gift a doppel to a friend going through a stressful period to help them feel calmer - and science says you’ll feel happier!
Challenge yourself to empathise with your enemies
Kindness can be a state of mind as well as an action. Giving yourself room to understand someone else makes for kinder conversation and is good practice for managing confrontation in the future. Listening is crucial to empathising with friends, but you could also challenge yourself to empathise with people you disagree with so much that you usually don’t engage. Writer Joel Snape suggests that “if you’re an anti-climate change campaigner, understanding the motivations of energy companies is important, and if you’re trying to talk to anti-vaxxers, understanding their concerns will probably do more good than copy/pasting endless peer-reviewed studies at them.” It might be difficult, but it’s a challenge that could well help you in the future.
doppel’s 30 day wellness challenge
Speaking of challenges, we’re currently running a 30 day wellness challenge on Instagram. All of the posts will stay on our page so you can start whenever you like. Day 3 was ‘Set an intention’ - perhaps you could set an intention to start a kind conversation with a stranger for this week!