The Science of Kindness vs. Anger

Grocery shopping is not my favorite activity, especially on a crowded Saturday afternoon. People get in my way. Kids are running wild. It is often a battleground. Last week while maneuvering my cart through the dairy section, and attempting to ward off my frustration, I smiled at a woman across the aisle. As I went to reach for the butter, she said, “It is so nice to see a smile these days. We don’t seem to get much of that lately.” I laughed and replied, “Keep fighting the good fight.” It was a short, yet important encounter. Just a simple smile made this woman’s day, and it also reminded me of the power of  kindness.

What is the science behind kindness? According to David Hamilton, PhD, there are positive side effects of kindness. It can trigger chemicals in our body such as serotonin and oxytocin which release feelings of happiness. The presence of these chemicals can lower blood pressure, relieve anxiety, and boost self-esteem and optimism. Kindness can also trigger the vagus nerve which controls inflammation in the body and helps slow the aging process.

When we are kind, we feel a connection to others. It can create a ripple effect, causing others to spread kindness. James Fowler, professor of medical genetics and political science at the University of California, San Diego, found that just one act of kindness often inspires more acts of generosity. He calls this “chain of altruism” an “upstream reciprocity.” Research psychologists from Emory University who study generosity call it a “helper’s high,” because endorphins are released when kindness is given to others.

Kindness is so simple, but why does it seem in such short supply lately? If the sheer act of kindness makes us feel better, why do many of us quickly resort to anger, blame, and hostility? Perhaps they are just as contagious as kindness. The more we are surrounded by negativity, does it seep into our consciousness and become normal behavior?

Steven Parton, a contributor for curiousapes.com, writes, “synapses that fire together wire together.” He believes our thoughts are reshaping our brain, and thus, our reality. What we think about most frequently represents our “default personality.” So, if we are constantly complaining about the ills of the world, taking our aggression out on others, and placing the blame of our failures outside of ourselves, those thoughts “win.” 

When our brains ignite the synapses of anger, we are weakening our immune systems. According to Psychology Today, when cortisol, our stress hormone is elevated it often leads to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and even diabetes. It is simple: stress, fear, and rage can kill us. 

So how do we reverse this? Is it possible to have empathy for others’ troubles while maintaining our own positive thoughts? Can we rewire our brains toward kindness, love, and understanding? How do we step away from the darkness swirling around us and within our own psyches?

It is all about choices. We can choose to be kind instead of angry. We can choose to be understanding instead of judgmental. We can choose to spend time with a tribe of uplifting spirits instead of habitual complainers. But like anything, it takes practice. Acknowledge the chaos of the universe, but reach for gratitude. Take a breath when you feel fury rising. Smile when a dark thought enters your brain. Eventually your brain will be rewired toward peace and acceptance and gentleness.

I hope the woman at the grocery store smiled at another person that day and continued the chain of love.

Be a warrior of love. #WeStandWithLove

Voltaire - quotesjunk.com'

Voltaire - quotesjunk.com'

Sources consulted:

Cassity, Jessica. “The Science of Giving: Why One Act of Kindness is Followed by Another.”my.happify.com. 2016.

Hamilton, David R. PhD, “The 5 Side Effects of Kindness.” drdavidhamilton.com. 30 May 2011.

Nielsen, Micah. “The Science of Kindness.” amysmartgirls.com. 7 October 2015.

Parton, Steven. “The Science of Happiness: Why complaining is literally killing you.”curiousape.com. 10 December 2015.