It’s often not difficult to do nice things for others—whether it’s as simple as holding open a door, giving a gift without an expectation of receiving one in return, or lending your ear and heart to a loved one who is struggling—and most of us equate such beneficent deeds with a state of goodness. But, even more folks might sign on for the “acts of kindness” way of living if they knew about one particular effect of it: Scientifically speaking, there’s evidence that being kind helps you live longer.
According to a 2018 meta analysis published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, doing nice things for other people are “effective ways of improving well-being.” Furthermore, a 2017 study published in Evolution and Human Behavior study found that people who were occasional, voluntary caregivers to others lived longer than individuals who were not.
But what, specifically, associates being kind with helping you live longer? Get expert context and research below, plus details on the best ways to be kind in order to facilitate longevity.
3 research-backed reasons why being kind can help you live longer
1. Doing so gives you a sense of purpose
The reasons why being kind helps you live longer, according to the research, is twofold, says Kien Vuu, MD, a longevity-focused physician and author of Thrive State: Your Blueprint for Optimal Health, Longevity, and Peak Performance. “There’s an emotional component, and the other component is that of giving, of serving other people,” he says, adding that the link between kindness and longevity is something we’ve already learned from the core lifestyle habits—or “Power 9″—of the longest-living people in the world. “One of [the Power 9] is ‘know your purpose,’ which is the reason you get up in the morning,” Dr. Vuu says. “Knowing your purpose really means feeling like you’re connected and feeling like you’re serving, like you’re giving to others.”
That’s precisely why being kind to and doing nice things for others can boost your longevity. “The beautiful thing about kindness is that it gets you outside of your own perception box, and it helps you to remove the focus from yourself and put it on other things in the world that help to provide meaning and purpose,” says positive psychology expert and celebrity happiness coach Robert Mack.
2. Kind acts help you connect with other people
“The other thing about kindness is that it helps you to connect with other people,” says Mack. It essentially brings you out of your own head and helps you build a stronger social network, which can also be extraordinarily helpful as far as longevity goes, given that maintaining a social life and being part of a community are also tenets of the Power 9.
3. It can keep health-compromising inflammation levels down
There’s also a biochemical link between kindness and longevity, in light of stressful and negative emotions spiking cortisol. “Emotional states of anger, fear, hate, resentment, anxiety, worry…all those drive up the stress hormone cortisol,” Dr. Vuu says. Eventually, this spike can increase in inflammation, he adds, which is unideal in terms of longevity, as inflammation has been linked to degenerative diseases like dementia. “If the emotions of stress are aging people, then the emotions of gratitude, love, and kindness are anti-aging,” Dr. Vuu says, noting that being kind “will actually decrease inflammatory markers and increase your immune system.”
The type of kindness that’s ideal for boosting longevity
Before you go volunteering to mow your neighbor’s lawn or do their grocery shopping, though, know that the experts say there are two types of kindness, and one is more helpful for reaping longevity-boosting benefits. “Most of us think about kindness that comes with an expectation of reciprocity, even if the reciprocity is a word of appreciation,” says Mack. “It’s a more transactional experience.” The other kind of kindness, says Mack, is “a little bit more involved and doesn’t come with an expectation of reciprocity or reward. It’s much more relational.”
While both transactional and relationship kindness are better than no kindness, doing good and helpful deeds for others without any expectations in place is where you want to be. It’s important that “you’re not trying to get something out of the kindness,” says Mack.
So, what’s one of the best ways to practice kindness without having an expectation that someone will return the favor? “Whatever it is [that makes you happy]…just share that with others freely. That’s what really being kind is about,” Dr. Vuu says. “That makes kindness easy, because you’re enjoying whatever you’re doing anyway, and then you’re just sharing that with other people.”
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