My mother in law has a mantra which she deploys whenever someone is being prickly or difficult. She chooses to ”kill them with kindness”. And over the years I have watched her acts of kindness gently soften many a tough exterior and bring a smile to countless faces.
But increasingly science demonstrates that kindness brings benefits not just for the recipient but for the giver too. Immunologists have found that acts of kindness affect a sub type of cells in our bloodstream which are a critical arm of our immune system and hamper viral infections. Kindness also reduces levels of inflammation around the body through a complex feedback loop. Both of these outcomes improve our long-term health. Within this current period of lockdown, reassuringly, one study reported that online kindness brought the same beneficial effects as the face to face variety.
But that’s not all…
Acts of kindness also create a sense of emotional warmth for both parties which triggers the release of oxytocin, known in popular jargon as the “the cuddle hormone.” This tiny molecule makes us feel good but also triggers the release of nitric oxide which opens up blood vessels all around the body to lower blood pressure and keep our heart healthy.
So, it seems that encouraging people to practise “random acts of kindness” may in fact be an excellent public health strategy. And this week in particular, the Mental Health Foundation’s National Mental Health Awareness Week has selected kindness as its focus. Because kindness has distinct benefits for our mental health too.
So, it’s no surprise that my aptly named mother-in-law, Joy, continues to embrace life in all its fullness with vigour well into her ninth decade. Those years of kindness have left their mark!