Legend tells us that Valentine’s Day came about when a Roman, set to be executed for his religious beliefs, sent a love letter to his jailor’s daughter, who had visited him during his confinement. It is said that he signed the letter from your Valentine, forever chiseling the phrase into history as a symbol of kindness, compassion and love. Although the truth behind the Valentine legend is murky, it does emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and – most importantly – romantic figure, and as a result has made February a month to share aforementioned kindness, compassion and love. The heart has become a central symbol of all of these.
Is this good for us?
It can feel good to be the recipient of a kind word or offer of help from a friend or colleague. Acts of kindness, compassion and love not only make the world a better place, but bestowing them on others reflects back on us – improving our mental and physical health, boosting our self-esteem, and allowing us to communicate better with others. People who perform acts of kindness would agree that it makes them feel good to be kind to others.
What the studies say
Research shows that not only can kindness, compassion and love make us feel good, but can also have significant physical and mental health benefits.
Some examples are:
- Researchers from the Universities of California, San Diego, and Harvard found that when people benefit from kindness, they ‘pay it forward’ by helping others who were not originally involved. When people in the study were given money to help someone else, a domino effect occurred, causing each person’s generosity to spread to three people, then to nine people, and then to still others in subsequent waves of the experiment.
- Arthur Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University in New York, found that feelings of love trigger the brain’s dopamine-reward system. Dopamine is a powerful neurotransmitter that affects pleasure and motivation. It is activated in many people, for instance, by winning a lot of money or taking stimulants. Put simply he found that love invigorates us
- Researchers at Harvard University showed a film about Mother Teresa’s work among the poor in Calcutta to 132 students. They then measured the levels of Immunoglobin A (an antibody that plays a critical role in immunity,) which showed markedly increased levels in all test subjects. In other words, purely witnessing compassion has the power to boost our immune system.
- Practicing small acts of kindness can help you become a happier, and the boost in mood can stay with you for months, according to research from York University. More than 700 people took part in a study that charted the effects of being nice to others, in small doses, over the course of a week. Six months later, participants reported increased happiness and self-esteem.
- The act of compassion triggers activity in the parts of the brain involved in pleasure and reward, according to researchers at Emory University.
Feel the glow
In the spirit of the story of Valentine’s Day, here are seven ways you can bring a warm glow to your own heart, and bring more meaning to the lives of others.
- Smile more often: Something as simple as a smile can create a connection with others and leave both parties feeling happier. Smiling and saying hello to people doing their job can make all the difference in how that person views his or her profession.
- Give compliments: A sincere compliment can turn a person’s world around. By making it a habit to give at least three sincere compliments a day, we can acknowledge the good in others and we can start to see the good in ourselves.
- Send thank you notes: Often, we are so busy that we don’t take the time to properly thank someone who has done us a good turn. A short hand-written note can be a pleasant surprise to receive; so too can a note letting someone know how much you appreciate them.
- Volunteer: By giving your time and energy to causes that you believe in, you are making a difference in the world. People who volunteer their time tend to be happier.
- Practice patience. Allow someone to get in line in front of you in a checkout line or in traffic.
- Give little gifts for no reason: People love to receive thoughtful gifts (whether purchased or handmade) when they aren’t expecting it. You can even give a gift to a stranger by donating items to a local charity for distribution.
- Kindness on a budget. There are many ways to show kindness without breaking the bank. Leave an extra-large tip for the busy wait-staff, pay for the order of the person behind you in the drive-through, or put money into someone’s parking meter that is about expire. Giving anonymously is guaranteed to make you smile.
(Source: Homewood Health)
Start the kindness by taking care your own heart. Sign up for the 2014 Travelling Health Fair at UBC. This year’s dates are Feb. 20th in Henry Angus Room 254, and Feb. 25th in Neville Scarfe Building Room 1005, 9am – 4pm.This year will focus on Cardiovascular Health. For more information click here or call 604.827.3047. Space is limited so register early.