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Why being nice to strangers is good for your health

Young woman helping older woman out of her car

Research shows there are selfish reasons to be kind. Here are 5 big health benefits that will make you want to be nicer.

Elizabeth Millard

By Elizabeth Millard

Ready to feel happier, healthier and just better all around? One of the quickest ways to get there has nothing to do with breaking a sweat or changing what you eat. Instead, it’s all about being kind.

Kindness is like a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it becomes. And as with any exercise, when you switch up the tactic you use, the results can be even more potent.

So if you’re already in the habit of showing kindness to friends and family, find ways to be friendly, generous and considerate to strangers, too.

There’s no right or wrong way to do it — no gesture is too small: Hold the door open for someone juggling a toddler tantrum and a bag of groceries. Donate extra canned goods to your local food pantry. Help a fellow traveler jump-start their car. Or share this free prescription medication discount card with a friend. (It could help them save to 80% at the pharmacy.)

Whatever the act, the effects can be far-reaching, from boosting your physical health to bolstering your emotional well-being and sense of resilience and connection. (And, of course, there is the positive impact you’ll have on the person you help.) Here are 5 ways kindness can improve how you feel, inside and out.

Kindness can improve your brain chemistry

Simply giving to others, even if it’s a small gift or an act of service, can boost feel-good chemicals in your brain, including dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, says Katie Ziskind, licensed marriage and family therapist. She’s the CEO of Wisdom Within Counseling in Niantic, Connecticut.

Ziskind adds that seeing the other person smile will release even more oxytocin. It’s a hormone that’s so intimately associated with feelings of connection that it’s often called the love chemical.

But what if your gift or act of kindness isn’t received in the way you anticipated? It’s easy to feel disappointed, says Ziskind. But don’t let that take away from your efforts — and the benefits. “Make sure that when you give a gift, you just focus on the act of kindness. Feel good in the process of giving.”

Kindness can lower your blood pressure

When oxytocin goes up, blood pressure drops, according to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK), a nonprofit organization. Oxytocin causes the release of a nitric oxide, a chemical that widens blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow through.

Lower blood pressure can have a range of benefits, especially in terms of reducing serious health risks. For example, the National Institutes of Health reports that high blood pressure can increase your chance of a heart attack or stroke. (About 1 in 3 American adults have high blood pressure, and many don’t know it.)

That means that lowering your blood pressure through everyday acts of kindness is not only good for your health — it might even save your life.

Related reading: 16 little ways to lower your blood pressure.

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Kindness can make you happier

How much kindness does it take to make you feel lighter and brighter? Research suggests you can get that boost fairly quickly. For example, a study in The Journal of Social Psychology found that those who performed kind acts every day for 7 days had significant boosts in their self-reported happiness compared with those who didn’t partake.

Even better: It didn’t matter who they were kind to. Even self-kindness had an impact. And just watching others be kind boosted happiness, too.

Kindness can lower your stress

According to RAK, people who are kind on a consistent basis have 23% less cortisol in their body than the average person. Often called the stress hormone, cortisol is important for daily functioning — but when it stays elevated, it can cause problems.

For example, the Mayo Clinic notes that long-term activation of your body’s stress response can lead to:

Kindness can be a valuable way to keep your cortisol levels controlled, which is another major way to improve your health overall.

Kindness can help you build connections

Loneliness is linked with a host of chronic diseases. Among them are depression, anxiety, heart disease and stroke, as well as premature death. Being lonely doesn’t necessarily mean being devoid of human contact. It’s purely the feeling of being alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So even if you’re surrounded by people all day long, it’s the connection you make to the outside world that matters.

Being kind to strangers may not come all that naturally. But it can be a powerful way to feel included in your community, says Tenaz Cardoz. She’s the founder of Kind Hearts Brigade, an initiative focused on creating more kindness.

Even if you never see the other person again, you’ll have a split-second connection that can make you feel like you’re part of something greater than yourself.

Who knows — it could even lead to friendship. As the saying goes, a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.

No matter how you choose to spread your warmth, know that even the smallest acts of kindness can make a big difference. As Cardoz says, “Kindness doesn’t have to be part of your to-do list. All you need to think of is how you can make the person in front of you feel a little lighter in the moment.”

Here’s an act of kindness you might try: Help the loved ones in your life find prescription medication savings. Download our free mobile app to find, save and send coupons anywhere, anytime.

Additional sources
Facts about kindness:
Random Acts of Kindness Foundation
Risks of high blood pressure: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Kindness and happiness study: The Journal of Social Psychology (2019). “A range of kindness activities boost happiness”
Consequences of chronic stress: Mayo Clinic
Loneliness and chronic disease: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention