Science of Kindness

We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love - Mother Teresa

What is Kindness?

Kindness is a form of love that manifests as an action marked by generosity, consideration, rendering assistance or concern for others, without expecting praise or reward in return.

Kindness is also a positive social behavior that involves acts of benevolence, generosity, and compassion towards others. The study of kindness has gained increasing attention in recent years, with research focusing on its biological, psychological, and societal effects. Kindness has been found to promote the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with social bonding and trust (Kosfeld et al., 2005; Zak et al., 2007).

Moreover, practicing kindness has been linked to improved mental health, reduced stress levels, and increased happiness and well-being (Layous et al., 2012; Nelson et al., 2016). Kindness is also seen as a key predictor of prosocial behavior, which benefits both individuals and society as a whole (Knafo et al., 2008; Otake et al., 2006). This paper aims to explore the science of kindness, examining its biological, psychological, and societal impacts, as well as strategies for promoting kindness and the importance of cultivating kindness in children.

The Biology of Kindness

Kindness is the best medicine. There are scientifically proven benefits to being kind! It is contagious, teachable, and makes you feel all fuzzy inside.

Kindness is chemical

Most research on the science behind why kindness makes us feel better has centered around oxytocin. Sometimes called "the love hormone," oxytocin plays a role in forming social bonds and trusting other people. It's the hormone mothers produce when they breastfeed, cementing their bond with their babies.

Oxytocin is also released when we're physically intimate. It's tied to making us more trusting, more generous, and friendlier, while also lowering our blood pressure. Acts of kindness can also give our love hormone levels a boost, research suggests. Dr. IsHak says studies have also linked random acts of kindness to releasing dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain that can give us a feeling of euphoria. This feel-good brain chemical is credited with causing what's known as a "helper's high." In addition to boosting oxytocin and dopamine, being kind can also increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood.

  • The impact of kindness on happiness and well-being: Studies have consistently found that practicing kindness can lead to increased happiness and well-being. For example, a study of 496 adults found that performing acts of kindness for others over a period of six weeks led to increased positive emotions and life satisfaction (Layous et al., 2013). Another study found that engaging in kind acts for others led to increased positive affect and decreased negative affect in both the short and long-term (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). These findings suggest that kindness can be a powerful tool for promoting personal well-being and positive emotions.

  • The benefits of kindness for mental health: Kindness has also been found to have important implications for mental health. For example, a study of 226 college students found that engaging in kind acts for others led to decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety (Kidd & Castano, 2013). Another study found that individuals who reported higher levels of dispositional gratitude, which is closely related to kindness, had lower levels of symptoms of depression and anxiety (Wood et al., 2010). These findings suggest that promoting kindness may be an effective way to improve mental health outcomes.

  • The impact of kindness on social connections and relationships: Kindness has been found to promote social connections and positive relationships with others. For example, a study of 395 adults found that those who reported engaging in more acts of kindness had stronger social relationships and were more satisfied with their social lives (Nelson et al., 2018). Additionally, a study of 128 couples found that practicing kindness towards one's partner was associated with greater relationship satisfaction and stability over time (Lambert et al., 2009). These findings suggest that kindness may be an important factor in promoting positive social connections and healthy relationships.

Kindness Increases

  • The Love Hormone: Witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, occasionally referred to as the ‘love hormone’ 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. Natalie Angier, The New York Times

  • Energy: “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” Christine Carter, UC Berkeley, Greater Good Science Cente

  • Happiness: A 2010 Harvard Business School survey of happiness in 136 countries found that people who are altruistic—in this case, people who were generous financially, such as with charitable donations—were happiest overall.

  • Lifespan: “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.” Christine Carter, Author, “Raising Happiness; In Pursuit of Joyful Kids and Happier Parents”\

  • Pleasure: 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.”

  • Serotonin: Like most medical antidepressants, kindness stimulates the production of serotonin. This feel-good chemical heals your wounds, calms you down, and makes you happy! Talya Steinberg, Psy.D for Psychology Today

Kindness Decreases

  • Pain: Engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins—the brain’s natural painkiller and boosts your mood. Lizette Borreli, Medical Daily

  • Stress: Perpetually kind people have 23% less cortisol (the stress hormone) and age slower than the average population!

  • Anxiety: A group of highly anxious individuals performed at least six cts 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. University of British Columbia Study

  • Depression: Stephen Post of 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. Dr. Stephen Post, Ph.D. bioethics professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

  • Blood Pressure: Committing acts of kindness lowers blood pressure. According to Dr. David R. Hamilton, acts of kindness create emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and, therefore, oxytocin is known as a “cardioprotective” hormone. It protects the heart by lowering blood pressure.

Kindness is healing

The practice is so effective it's being formally incorporated into some types of psychotherapy.

  • Studies are investigating if oxytocin can be beneficial in treating some conditions. The hormone is a protein and cannot simply be taken as a pill. It's being studied in injection and nasal spray forms.

  • Mindfulness-based therapy is becoming increasingly popular for treating depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. The therapy is built on mindfulness meditation, documenting your gratitude, and acts of kindness. People being treated in a mindfulness-based therapy program incorporate acts of kindness into their daily routines.

  • Helping others is also believed to increase levels of an endorphin-like chemical in the body called substance P, which can relieve pain, Dr. IsHak says.

Kindness is teachable

“It’s kind of like weight training, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.” Dr. Ritchie Davidson, University of Wisconsin

Kindness is contagious

The positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brain of everyone who witnessed the act, improving their mood and making them significantly more likely to “pay it forward.” This means one good deed in a crowded area can create a domino effect and improve the day of dozens of people! Jamil Zaki, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stanford University for Scientific American, July 26, 2016

It appears that even small acts of kindness generate just as much happiness as do lofty acts. In an interesting set of studies, participants were either given $5 or $20 as part of an experiment. Participants in both groups were then asked to either spend the money on themselves or on others. Those who spent the money on others, it turned out, grew happier than those who spent it on themselves. More interestingly, the amount of money spent on others didn’t make a difference to happiness levels: those who spent $5 derived just as much happiness as those who spent $20. Michael Norton, one of the study co-authors summarizes the deep-seated and universal nature of the need to love in his excellent TED talk.

Kindness requires practice

The good news is that a simple act of kindness can reward our bodies and minds with feel-good chemical substances. However, the effect isn't lasting. Acts of kindness have to be repeated.

Science of Love

people in secure realtionships

  • are healthier overall

  • see less memory decline

  • maintain sharper and mroe active minds in old age

people who are lonely

  • are less healthy and begin to decline earlier

  • have shorter lifespans

  • see an earlier decline in braind and memory function

  • are not as happy as those in secure realtionships

Societal Impacts of Kindness

  • The role of kindness in promoting prosocial behavior: Kindness has been found to be a key predictor of prosocial behavior, which is behavior that benefits others or society as a whole. For example, a study of 2,000 participants from 10 countries found that those who reported engaging in more acts of kindness also reported greater levels of prosocial behavior (Otake et al., 2006). Another study found that practicing kindness towards others led to increased prosocial behavior in children (Layous et al., 2012). These findings suggest that kindness may be an important factor in promoting prosocial behavior and positive social outcomes.

  • The effects of kindness on workplace culture and productivity: Kindness has also been found to have positive effects on workplace culture and productivity. For example, a study of 1,000 employees found that those who reported experiencing more acts of kindness from their coworkers also reported greater job satisfaction and commitment to their organization (Rao & Ditomaso, 2013). Another study found that promoting kindness and compassion in the workplace led to improved team performance and reduced turnover (Cameron et al., 2011). These findings suggest that promoting kindness and compassion in the workplace may lead to a more positive and productive work environment.

  • The impact of kindness on community and social cohesion: Kindness has been found to have important implications for community and social cohesion. For example, a study of 358 adults found that those who reported engaging in more acts of kindness also reported greater feelings of social connection and community engagement (Fowler & Christakis, 2010). Another study found that promoting kindness and generosity in a community led to increased social capital and civic engagement (Helliwell et al., 2008). These findings suggest that kindness may be an important factor in promoting community and social cohesion.

Practical Application of Kindness

  • Strategies for promoting kindness: Various strategies have been developed to promote kindness, such as random acts of kindness interventions, gratitude exercises, and mindfulness practices. For example, a study of 684 adults found that a three-week intervention focused on performing daily acts of kindness led to increased happiness and well-being (Otake et al., 2006). Another study found that practicing gratitude and kindness exercises led to increased prosocial behavior and positive emotions in children (Froh et al., 2009). These findings suggest that incorporating kindness-promoting strategies into daily routines may lead to positive outcomes.

  • The benefits of kindness interventions: Kindness interventions have been found to have a range of positive effects, including improved well-being, reduced stress, and increased prosocial behavior. For example, a study of 139 participants found that engaging in a gratitude and kindness intervention led to increased well-being and reduced symptoms of depression (Kong et al., 2015). Another study found that practicing mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation led to increased positive emotions and improved interpersonal relationships (Hofmann et al., 2011). These findings suggest that kindness interventions may be a useful tool for promoting personal and social well-being.

  • The importance of cultivating kindness in children: Cultivating kindness in children has been found to have important implications for their social and emotional development. For example, a study of 605 adolescents found that those who reported engaging in more acts of kindness also reported greater levels of empathy, gratitude, and positive emotions (Layous et al., 2014). Another study found that promoting kindness and compassion in schools led to improved classroom behavior and academic performance (Lomas et al., 2018). These findings suggest that cultivating kindness in children may be an important factor in promoting positive social and emotional development.

Why is Kindness important to Chesed Torah?

Kindness, or "chesed" in Hebrew, is an essential value in Torah, which is the central text of Jewish tradition. Kindness is seen as a fundamental aspect of Jewish ethics and morality, and is closely linked to the practice of compassion, or "rachamim."

In the Torah, there are many examples of kindness being demonstrated by God and human beings. For example, God is described as a kind and merciful God who cares for his people and provides for their needs. The Torah also emphasizes the importance of showing kindness towards others, particularly those who are in need or suffering.

Kindness is seen as an important spiritual practice in Judaism because it involves cultivating a sense of empathy and compassion for others, and seeking to alleviate their suffering. It is also seen as a way of fulfilling the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself," and of emulating God's kind and loving nature.

In addition to its spiritual benefits, kindness is also seen as an important ethical principle in Torah. The Jewish tradition teaches that people should strive to be kind and compassionate towards others, and to treat them with respect and dignity. This involves acts of charity, generosity, and social justice, and is seen as an essential aspect of living a morally upright life.

Overall, kindness is an important concept in Torah because it reflects the values of empathy, care, and concern for others that are at the heart of Jewish ethics and morality. It is seen as a way of emulating God's kind and loving nature, and of living a life of generosity, compassion, and social responsibility.

Kindness as an Essential Principle of the Torah

Kindness is a fundamental principle of the Torah, deeply embedded in Jewish teachings and practices. It encompasses a wide range of ethical behaviors and attitudes that promote compassion, generosity, and support for others. Here’s an exploration of why kindness is so central to the Torah:

1. Biblical Foundations of Kindness

A. Commandments and Teachings

  • Acts of Kindness: The Torah contains numerous commandments and teachings that emphasize the importance of kindness. For example, Leviticus 19:34 commands: "The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God." This verse underscores the obligation to show kindness to strangers, reflecting the core value of treating others with compassion and respect.

  • Charity and Generosity: The Torah mandates acts of charity and support for those in need. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 states, “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.” This command highlights the importance of generosity and aiding those who are less fortunate.

B. The Principle of Chessed (Kindness)

  • Chessed: The Hebrew term "chessed" refers to loving-kindness or steadfast love. It is a central concept in Jewish ethics and is often associated with God's nature. The Torah encourages individuals to emulate God's chessed by engaging in acts of kindness towards others. For example, the story of Abraham’s hospitality to the three visitors (Genesis 18) illustrates the value of chessed and the importance of welcoming and caring for strangers.

2. Kindness in Personal and Communal Relationships

A. Interpersonal Conduct

  • Respect and Compassion: Kindness is crucial in interpersonal relationships, guiding how individuals interact with one another. The Torah teaches that individuals should act with respect, empathy, and compassion. Proverbs 3:3 advises, “Let not kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” This teaching emphasizes the need for kindness to be a consistent and integral part of one's character.

  • Conflict Resolution: The principle of kindness extends to resolving conflicts and maintaining harmony within the community. The Torah encourages individuals to seek peaceful resolutions and show understanding and forgiveness towards others. For instance, the mitzvah of "Ve'ahavta Le'reacha Kamocha" (love your neighbor as yourself) includes the idea of resolving disputes with kindness and fairness.

B. Community Support

  • Social Justice: Kindness is closely linked to social justice in the Torah. Acts of kindness are not limited to personal interactions but extend to ensuring justice and fairness in society. The Torah's laws related to the treatment of the poor, the orphan, and the widow reflect a commitment to social justice through acts of kindness and support (Exodus 22:22-24).

  • Community Responsibility: The Torah teaches that individuals have a responsibility to care for their community and contribute to the common good. This includes providing for the needy, supporting communal institutions, and fostering a sense of solidarity and mutual aid (Leviticus 25:35-36).

3. Theological and Ethical Dimensions of Kindness

A. Divine Attributes

  • Imitating God: In Jewish theology, emulating God's attributes is a key aspect of religious life. Kindness is seen as a reflection of God's nature, as demonstrated by His acts of compassion and mercy towards creation. By practicing kindness, individuals align themselves with divine attributes and fulfill their spiritual and ethical obligations (Micah 6:8).

  • The Role of Kindness in Holiness: The Torah teaches that kindness is integral to achieving holiness. In the context of religious observance, acts of kindness are not merely supplementary but essential to living a holy and righteous life. This view is reflected in the teaching that “The world is built on kindness” (Psalms 89:2).

B. Ethical Imperatives

  • Moral Responsibility: Kindness is a core ethical value in the Torah, shaping moral responsibility and behavior. It guides individuals to act with integrity, empathy, and generosity, fostering a just and compassionate society.

  • Transformative Power: Kindness has the power to transform individuals and communities. By engaging in acts of kindness, individuals can create positive change, build stronger relationships, and contribute to a more compassionate world.

4. Practical Applications and Rituals

A. Daily Practices

  • Charitable Giving: The practice of tzedakah (charitable giving) is a key expression of kindness in Jewish life. This includes regular contributions to those in need and supporting community welfare initiatives.

  • Hospitality: Hospitality and welcoming guests are important practices that reflect kindness. The Torah’s teachings encourage individuals to extend hospitality and care to others, following the example set by Abraham and other biblical figures.

B. Ritual Observances

  • Blessings and Prayers: The Torah’s prayers and blessings often include elements of kindness and gratitude. For example, the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) includes blessings that acknowledge and give thanks for God’s provision and kindness.

References

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