The Science Behind Small Acts of Kindness

Last updated January 27, 2024

“It’s better to give than receive.” This saying couldn’t be truer, especially when it comes to kindness. Small acts of kindness are like a gift—bringing joy to both the giver and receiver. 

Being kind can be simple. Yet, it might not be something you intentionally think about. But once you experience the tangible benefits, being kind might just become a priority in your daily life. 

Studies show that if you perform just one small act of kindness a day, it not only reduces your stress, anxiety and depression, but your body is flooded with the same hormones that make you and the person you’ve helped calmer, healthier and happier. 

And this fact is actually backed up by science

Kindness Is Chemical 

The reason a small act of kindness makes us feel good is that it physically and energetically affects us. When you make someone smile, laugh or feel gratitude, your body mimics those sensations.

This is because kindness boosts chemicals within your body. Oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins and dopamine are all released in your brain when you are kind. Oxytocin plays a role in forming social bonds and trusting other people. Dopamine, on the other hand, gives us a feeling of euphoria and is related to the reward system in our brain. 

Serotonin helps regulate your mood and emotions while endorphins are known to increase energy and decrease pain. So when it comes to being kind, your brain sends a signal to your body to smile in pleasure. 

There is a catch, though. Research shows that a single act of kindness isn’t going to cut it. Any small act of kindness needs to become a regular habit. Only when you practice kindness on a daily basis can you keep those feel-good hormones circulating in your body. 

What Supports Kindness?

So how do we make kindness the norm, not the exception? We explore three layers of kindness below and how these support the daily practice of being kind.

1. Small Acts of Kindness: Empathy

Kindness is tied to our innate capacity toward empathy and almost all of us have this default in us.  Human brains are soft wired for empathy, which is the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.  

According to leading neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni, humans have a type of brain cell that “mirrors” what we perceive from others. This means that when you observe someone who is experiencing anger, joy or frustration, you feel what they are experiencing thanks to mirror neurons in your brain.

2. Small Acts of Kindness: Community

We humans are also wired to connect. Throughout history, there has always been a need to build a village—whether it’s for survival, healing, raising children or purpose through social connection.

It turns out that we are keener to cooperate than to compete. A surprising fact in today’s society. Cooperation is essential at work, in sports and in our personal lives. 

When you offer encouragement, lend a helping hand or a shoulder to lean on, in effect, your kindness benefits others and creates a  sense of belonging. 

A small act of kindness can be a hug, a compliment, paying it forward by buying someone coffee or talking to a stranger. It’s as easy as asking someone how they are, helping out a neighbor with groceries or listening to a golden-ager who simply wants to talk. 

3. Small Acts of Kindness: Compassion

Even though they are similar, there is a big difference between compassion and kindness. Compassion helps us connect  with others and mend relationships. Compassion takes empathy one step further as it harbors a desire to help others. 

Meditation has been proven to be one of the best ways to cultivate compassion—toward yourself and to others. When you meditate frequently, your nervous system becomes calmer and you relax. You are inviting more love into your energy space and as a result, you are strengthening your inclination to be kind, compassionate and empathetic. 

You can be compassionate by wishing people well and sending out love to loved ones or even strangers through a loving-kindness meditation.

Doing Good Is Good for You

No small act of kindness goes unnoticed. Here are nine science-backed ways to improve your well-being through kindness.

  • Releases dopamine and oxytocin
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Affects your vascular system and reduces inflammation
  • Is contagious—for every act of kindness, it affects five people and starts a positive cycle
  • Reduces anxiety and stress
  • Gets your blood circulating and makes you age slower
  • Improves your vitality 
  • Helps you be more cooperative, thrive and succeed
  • Increases your chances of community and therefore belonging

And Remember…

One of the best ways to be kind is by the act of receiving. Your openness to receive kindness and help from others truly benefits the other person. This is why the acts of giving and receiving kindness are equally important. 

So here you have it. Kindness boosts your personal well-being. What’s your experience with small acts of kindness?

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