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    Here's Why Kindness Matters, According To Science

    For starters, kindness lengthens your lifespan.

    We all know that kindness makes the world a happier place, blah blah blah (JK, that's super important, please be nice to me), but did you know that being kind also makes you a much healthier person?

    Study after study shows that acts of kindness have a substantial impact on both your physical and mental health. So, if you needed even more reason to spread kindness during a time when we could all definitely use a bit more of it (I mean, have you been on Twitter lately?), get ready to feel inspired by science.

    Here are a few things the research on kindness tells us:

    1. It lengthens your lifespan.

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    If you've ever done volunteer work, you know how rewarding it can be, but it doesn't just make you feel warm and fuzzy inside — it literally adds years to your life. Studies show that people who are engaged in helping others, particularly when their volunteerism is done out of selflessness (not, say, because they need it on their résumé), live longer than those who are not.

    In fact, Christine Carter, a sociologist at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center and author of Raising Happiness: In Pursuit of Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, writes that people 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations are 44% less likely to die early, and that’s after sifting out factors like physical health, smoking, gender, and marital status. Researchers believe that helping others produces positive emotions that can help fight the negative effects of stress, which often precipitates many physical and mental ailments.

    2. It improves heart health.

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    I'm not saying you should give up cardio, but you should know that simple acts of kindness are really good for your heart too. Expressing love, catching up with friends, hugging — all of these things release a hormone called oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the "love hormone" or "cuddle chemical."

    Oxytocin stimulates feelings of happiness, trust, empathy, and generosity, and has a hand in how you interact socially. It's released in the heart and travels through blood vessels, where it plays a powerful part not only in lowering blood pressure, but also in reducing free radicals (unstable molecules that can damage the cells in your body) and easing vascular inflammation — two major factors in coronary artery disease.

    So, the next time you hold the door for someone, ask a coworker how their day's going, or give your partner a hug, you're not just spreading positivity — you're reducing your risk of conditions like heart disease, thanks to oxytocin.

    3. It eases anxiety and depression.

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    A 2015 study asked a group of people with severe anxiety to perform at least six acts of kindness a week, and after just one month, they saw a notable increase in positive moods and relationship satisfaction. There was also a decrease in social avoidance in those who experienced social anxiety. Why? Research shows that kindness also releases dopamine and serotonin, which result in a stronger sense of well-being and self-worth.

    It's a sort of domino effect: Kindness promotes feelings of empathy, compassion, and gratitude. Each of these feelings help us connect with others — and when we're more connected with others, we're less likely to isolate ourselves, which is a common symptom of depression. That lack of isolation promotes feelings of community and belonging, which help reduce negative emotions like anger, sadness, and anxiety.

    4. It decreases pain.

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    Activities like volunteering even produce endorphins, aka our body's natural painkillers. That's why people who regularly perform acts of kindness are less likely to experience aches and pains throughout their lives. Endorphins act on our brain's opioid receptors, which send signals to our brain that block pain, slow our breathing, and provide a calming, anti-depressant effect.

    5. It increases happiness.

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    According to a Harvard Business School study that surveyed happiness in 136 countries, people who are altruistic — particularly those who make donations to charitable causes — are the happiest overall. The research found that the psychological bliss we experience after helping others (as well as spending money on them!), has a consistent effect on our happiness, and might be deeply ingrained in human nature.

    It makes sense, considering acts of kindness cause our brain's pleasure and reward centers to light up, which is where dopamine is released. That chemical has a euphoric effect on us similar to a drug high. Seriously. We tend to feel so good after being kind to others that researchers even refer to it as the “helper's high" — a unique physical sensation that results from helping.

    6. It gives you energy.

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    Considering kindness can reduce feelings of depression, which can cause overwhelming fatigue, it's unsurprising that it also has the ability to raise our energy levels. Studies on kindness have shown that, after helping others, the majority of participants felt stronger, calmer, and more energetic. That lil' burst of vitality you feel when you help someone pick up a pile of papers they dropped or treat a friend to dinner isn't coincidental, y'all.

    7. And it's contagious.

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    I know that sounds like something your mother would tell you (and you should listen to her!!!), but it's also SCIENCE. Research has found that everyone involved in an act of kindness — even just someone who witnessed it happen — benefits from it. They each experience the positive effects of kindness within the brain, which actually motivate them to pay it forward. And I mean, who wouldn't be inspired by all of those glowing feelings radiating throughout their body?

    So, remember: if you're nice to people in traffic, on the street, or in line for coffee, you can cause a chain reaction of kindness and goodness in the world.

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