Society

Being kind may make people healthier

The Bedari Institute at UCLA is researching kindness and how it affects people and society.

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We are taught at a young age, to share our toys, to listen to our parents and teachers, and to be kind to others. Teaching empathy and kindness to children has become part of the three Rs in many places.

As adults, however, this lesson can get lost on us, especially as our social interactions are increasingly digital and our communities increasingly isolated. While it seems as though the discussion around kindness is obvious, there’s actually an ocean of depth and importance surrounding this topic that we are unaware of. In fact, Scientists have just begun to explore the health benefits that are associated with kindness.

In September 2019, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) launched the world’s first interdisciplinary research institute on kindness called the Bedari Kindness Institute according to a university press release to research the far reaching benefits of kindness. The institute was established by a $20 million grant from the Bedari Foundation.

“Our vision is that we will all live in a world where humanity discovers and practices the kindness that exists in all of us,” said Matthew Harris, the foundation’s co-founder and a 1984 UCLA graduate.

Daniel Fessler, inaugural director of the Institute explained that the purpose of the institute is to investigate what it means to be kind, why it's so important, and what makes it so contagious through evolutionary, biological, psychological, economic, cultural and sociological perspectives. The institute will also study how kindness improves our mood and wellbeing and how random acts of kindness, like a café barista smiling at you, can have positive health effects.

"Engaging in kindness, contemplating how you can be kind to others, lowers blood pressure. It has therapeutic benefits," Fessler said. "There are benefits for treating depression and anxiety."

A Columbia University Doctor, Kelli Harding, wrote a book about kindness called The Rabbit Effect about the positive benefits of experiencing kindness from others. "It helps the immune system, blood pressure, it helps people to live longer and better. It's pretty amazing because there's an ample supply and you can't overdose on it," she said adding that there is a free supply of kindness.

As the health benefits of kindness are being uncovered, the desire to strengthen society’s ability to perform them increases. Being kind is one of the easiest ways to brighten up your day and the days of those around you. And when people see kind acts, they are usually inspired to do kind acts themselves. The opportunities for kindness are abundant.

"I think we're living in a time where there's a direct need to step back and explore the things that make us human and that have the potential to lead to more humane societies," Darnell Hunt, dean of the UCLA social sciences division said.

"We are living in a moment of political polarization in the United States and elsewhere, with increased urbanization leading to less direct interactions between people…It's not a case of us being here in an ivory tower. We want to translate this research into how people in the real world can use this to create policy and make a difference."

When we refresh our senses to tune-in to others, we begin to see how accessible these life-changing moments are. They can be as simple as complimenting a stranger’s clothes, smiling at the bus driver, or helping someone carry a heavy load up the stairs.

These moments remind us that we are not alone; they show us that although on the outside we see strangers, on the inside, we are bound to each other by a network of humanity and compassion. And this can make us healthier mentally and physically.

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