Simply put, kindness makes us happy. Here’s a video that went viral on Facebook to get our happy juices flowing of what happiness literally looks like in the brain.
There is a debate on whether this animation is kinesin transporting a vesicle, or myosin dragging a ball of endorphins along a filament into the brain’s cortex. One scientist says, “That vesicle could contain endorphins, why not? They could be on their way to getting out of the secretory cell, prepared to make us happy. Still wonderful.” It makes me feel good just to imagine my proteins striding towards my brain with huge endorphins to produce happiness. That thought creates more ‘happy chemicals.’
Endorphins are one of the four primary chemicals in the brain that are attributed to happiness, commonly known as the happy chemicals. The other three are dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. When your brain releases any one of these chemicals you feel good. Although each of these chemicals play a different role in happiness, all are increased by random acts of kindness.
Dopamine is a chemical used by the nerves to send messages and allows us to feel pleasure, bliss, and motivation. When depleted in our brain, our messages aren’t transmitted properly and can impact our behavior, mood, cognition, learning, and sleep. Feelings of self-doubt, procrastination, or a lack of enthusiasm could be clues that the brain is low on dopamine. Our brain releases a bit of dopamine whenever we achieve something, so breaking big goals into smaller goals will provide regular ‘pleasure hits’ of dopamine. Regular exercise and adequate sleep are other easy ways to increase dopamine levels.
Oxytocin, known as the cuddle or the love hormone, allows us to feel love and connection. It creates intimacy, trust, self-esteem, optimism, and builds strong, healthy relationships. It can be trigged by closeness with another person, social bonding, eye contact, and attentiveness, which in turn strengthens existing bonds. A hug, smile, or just witnessing a random act of kindness will produce oxytocin, reduce stress, and even improve the immune system.
Serotonin controls our moods, good and bad. It flows when you feel important, satisfied, or accomplished and causes loneliness, unhappiness, and depression when absent. It affects learning, memory, mood, sleep, health, and digestion. Our brains don’t distinguish between real and imagined, so happy thoughts or remembering past achievements can increase serotonin. Simple gratitude practices, random acts of kindness, and sunshine (vitamin D) also increase serotonin.
Endorphins create a brief euphoria to mask pain or reach the ‘runner’s high.’ They activate areas of the brain that are associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust and help to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. Laughing, crying, regular exercise, and (love this one) dark chocolate can increase endorphins. Engaging in acts of kindness, nicknamed the ‘helper’s high,’ stimulates our brain’s pleasure and reward centers, releasing endorphins and creating a sense of pride, well-being, increased energy, self-worth, and an enriched sense of belonging.
“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” – Bob Kerrey
Kindness is considered to be the psychological opposite to bullying or victimization. Scientific studies prove there are many physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health benefits associated with kindness, many of which are caused by the happy chemicals. The boost in happiness from an act of kindness occurs not only in the giver and receiver of kindness, but everyone who witnesses it, resulting in ongoing positive ripple effects. The best news – kindness can be taught.
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