While witnessing someone helping another individual can make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, there's nothing like offering a random act of kindness yourself. Whether it's buying a coffee for the stranger behind you in line at a coffeeshop or donating gently used books to a school in need, science says that these spontaneous, good-will gestures can offer significant health benefits. Studies have shown that individuals who offer a random act of kindness will likely experience something known as a "helper's high."
According to an article published in EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing, "The concept of the "helper's high" arose in the 1980s, and has been confirmed in various studies since then. It consists of positive emotions following selfless service to others. Greater health and increased longevity are associated with this psychological state." These feel-good chemicals have also been shown to lower levels of depression, minimize stress, and reduce cognitive impairment later in life.
Random acts of kindness may also lower your blood pressure. A 2015 study explored whether spending money on yourself or on others had a greater impact on one's overall well-being. Researchers found that those who spent $40 others—rather than on themselves—had lower blood pressure and improved heart health after the six-week study. "These findings suggest that spending money on others shapes cardiovascular health, thereby providing one pathway by which prosocial behavior improves physical health among at-risk older adults," according to the article published in Health Psychology.
A December 2019 study found that while engaging in altruistic behaviors may be expensive, it contributes to the health and well-being of the performer of such behaviors. Those who donated money or helped others financially in some capacity were less likely to feel pain from an electric shock. Researchers learned that the brain's reaction to painful stimulation may be instantly deactivated by the experience of giving.
Wondering how you can help make a difference in the world and ultimately improve your own health? The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, an organization that promotes normalizing kind gestures, has a few ideas. Compliment drivers on a stellar parking job, leave quarters at a local laundromat, eat locally to support local farmers and restaurants, or send an encouraging email to a co-worker. And in the age of social media, the foundation also recognizes the benefits of leaving a positive comment on a blog post, Instagram, or an article found on the internet.