Kindness Can Improve Mental Health

Have you ever been the beneficiary of a random act of kindness? If you have, it may have been inspired by a phenomenon introduced by American author Catherine Ryan Hyde. In her 1999 novel, “Pay it Forward”, a twelve-year-old student named Trevor McKinney is given an assignment by his grade 7 social studies teacher. The assignment was no small task. He and his classmates needed to come up with a plan that would change the world for the better. Trevor decides on a charitable program that would establish a networking of good deeds he called, paying it forward. Starting with an act of kindness toward another person, the idea was, the recipient of kindness would offer another recipient that same kindness and then on to another and another and so on. The book was a hit and even produced a movie by the same name.


Kindness is choosing to do something that helps another and being considerate of someone and it is motivated by the virtue of generosity. Kindness puts the needs of others before your own. It is often selfless, exudes compassion toward others and seeks to benefit the needs of others. Different people may view kindness in different ways, but empathy, understanding and compassion are universal. Being accepting and meeting the needs of others, no matter who they are or where they came from, is kindness in and of itself.

The Pay-It-Forward Effect

Paying it forward is a dominoes-like event, where a single act of kindness is shared by one stranger to another, creating a chain reaction of kindness.  Often, you find these acts of kindness at a drive-through of a coffee shop or fast-food restaurant. The person in front of you pays for your purchase, and in turn, you pay for the person behind you, and on and on it goes until someone stops the continuum.  The pay-it-forward phenomenon has made a profound impact on our society, as it creates a sense of connectedness and positivity among strangers.

Researchers at the University of California Riverside studied this phenomenon and have come up with a theory called the ‘pay-it-forward effect.’ The study revealed that showing and receiving kindness increased feelings of happiness and satisfaction among the participants, as well as increased feelings of relatedness.

How Kindness Improves Mental Health

Being kind is not only a good thing to do – it’s also the right thing to do in terms of our physical and mental health. Performing acts of kindness boosts happiness, calmness, self-esteem, and an overall sense of well-being as it stimulates the production of serotonin – the ‘feel good’ chemical. As well, regarding physical health, showing kindness releases endorphins – the brain’s natural pain killer. Oxytocin is also released through showing kindness – a hormone that lowers blood pressure, and aids heart health. Kindness also reduces the production of the body’s stress hormone cortisol, thus leading many to the conclusion kindness may be linked to a longer life.

Taking the time to show kindness to someone not only has its emotional and physical upsides, but it does also make a difference in the life of the recipient. Those who are on the receiving end of kindness also have boosts in feelings of happiness, as well as feelings of encouragement, connectedness, and belonging.

How to Practice Kindness

Be sure to enjoy what you do

Kindness should be a natural overflow of who you are as a person. Attempting to do something for others that you truly do not like doing will not only make your act of kindness feel obligatory, but it may also become a burden. Kindness is not only for the benefit of others, so make sure your kindness is benefitting you as well.

Don’t overdo it

There are times we can give too much of ourselves or even go beyond our means and capacity. This can leave us with feelings of regret or even resentment. If you find yourself in this position, it’s a good time to take a step back. There are times when we can be all or nothing with our approach to helping others and performing acts of kindness, so be sure to find a balance. Make sure to leave enough time and space for you and always keep in mind – kindness must start with being kind to yourself.

Practical Ways to Show Kindness and Improve Mental Health

There are numerous ways you can practice kindness and experience the benefits, including:

  • Reaching out to a family member or friend who you know to be lonely or who you haven’t spoken to in a while.
  • Offer to help someone at work or school and take time to learn something about them, showing an interest in their life.
  • Volunteer for a local organization or cause you are passionate about. If you’re an animal lover, perhaps the local humane society is a place to start. Maybe your community nursing home could use your help showing kindness to their residents or your kid’s elementary school is looking for a one-on-one with some of their students.
  • Consider becoming a mentor for someone in need through your local church or Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.

Kindness truly has the potential to make the world a better and happier place. We all want to see a world that is kinder when it comes to business decisions, kinder with government policy, and kinder in our agencies and institutions. We may not have the ability to show kindness in these particular areas, but we can start as individuals in our own sphere of influence. Perhaps it starts with a kind word, a generous act, or even a pay-it-forward event. Wherever you choose to start, remember, evidence shows being kind really does improve your well-being.

“No act of Kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

– Aesop Can Help

If you would like to know more about how kindness can benefit your mental health, please reach out to us today. When you sign up to work with you get to choose a therapist you feel comfortable with, and you can develop a personalized approach that supports your needs to bring about the changes you desire.

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