MIND & BODY
Being kind to others means you’re being kind to yourself
The amazing health benefits of being nice
A kind word or touch lights up the lives of children in Cape Town without long to live. Their doctor shared his story this month and, increasingly, research shows that kindness is good for both those who give it and get it.
Paediatrian Alistair McAlpine said he now prioritises kindness every day after his patients, four to nine years old with terminal conditions, and it has made him realise how much it mattered.
“They were especially grateful for kindness, for anyone who held their hand or had a kind word for them,” he said.The positive effects of showing kindness range from greater confidence among young teens to socially anxious adults being more relaxed, recent studies suggest. They support prior research that being generous with time and money boosts wellbeing.
Even primates help strangers without being asked and with no tangible rewards, a new study of bonobo apes has found.Wild-born bonobos go out of their way to share food with strangers, Dr Jingzhi Tan from Duke University demonstrated in experiments at a sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Even if the strangers didn’t ask for help, the bonobos provided it.
Helping strangers – by providing services, doing favours, sharing and comforting them – boosts the self-esteem of early adolescents aged 11 to 14, a report in the Journal of Adolescence indicates.
Prosocial behaviour shown only to family and friends is not as beneficial, the study involving 680 early adolescents in two cities from 2008 to 2011 found.
“This study helps us to understand that young people who help those with whom they do not have a relationship report feeling better about themselves over time,” said Professor Laura Padilla-Walker from Brigham Young University in the US.“Not all helping is created equal, and we’re finding that prosocial behavior toward strangers is protective in a variety of ways that is unique from other types of helping.
“For teens, who sometimes have a tendency to focus on themselves, parents can help by providing opportunities for their children to help and serve others less fortunate," she said.
In another study with 115 Canadians students, researchers concluded that “doing good deeds helped socially anxious people to relax”.
Keeping busy with kind acts allowed people who are “more than just a little shy” to mix more easily, concluded Jennifer Trew of Simon Fraser University and Lynn Alden of the University of British Columbia.
Socially anxious people tend to have fewer friends, feel more insecure and often do not experience emotional intimacy in close relationships. The behavioural trial found pro-social acts reduced their level of anxiety and their avoidance of social engagements.
The students were divided into three groups: one group performed services like washing a roommate’s dishes, mowing a neighbour’s lawn, or donating to a charity; the second group was exposed only to social interactions and the third group had no intervention but just recorded what happened each day.
Trew said: “Performing acts of kindness to the benefit of others is known to increase happiness and may lead to positive interactions and perceptions of the world at large.”