After all, actions of kindness may not be so spontaneous. Research claims generosity pays off.
Research indicates that courtesy behaviors help us feel happier and safer. Likewise, empathy is fundamental to how we developed and flourished as a culture, scientists say. We ‘re hard-wired for being sweet.
Kindness “is as bred in our bones as our anger or our lust or our grief or as our desire for revenge,” said University of California San Diego psychologist Michael McCullough, author of the forthcoming book “Kindness of Strangers.” It’s also, he said, “the main feature we take for granted.”
Science work is growing into human nature and we talk honestly about what scientists have discovered so far.
“Kindness is much older than religion. It does seem to be universal,” said University of Oxford anthropologist Oliver Curry, research director at Kindlab. “The basic reason why people are kind is that we are social animals.”
We prioritize benevolence above every other attribute. When psychologists categorized values and asked people what was more important, benevolence or kindness, they came out on top, beating hedonism, having an exciting life, creativity, ambition, tradition, security, obedience, seeking social justice and seeking power, psychologist Anat Bardi, who studies value systems, said at the University of London.
It was the same in her dozens of countries: Kindness was always No. 1. Citizens in Scandinavian countries continue to praise benevolence highly, as well as being the happiest areas in annual world rankings.
“A lot of people tell me, well, people aren’t kind. And I think that’s actually a bit of a perception fallacy because when you measure people’s behaviors, actually you find out they are kind,” Bardi said. “People do perform acts of kindness regularly.”
The problem is we recall the unkind act or the disrespectful guy, not the goodness that is more normal and anticipated, Bardi said. Deep down we are inspired to be compassionate, she said.
“We’re kind because under the right circumstances we all benefit from kindness,” Oxford’s Curry said.
When it comes to the survival of a community, “kindness pays, friendliness pays,” said Brian Hare, evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University, author of the latest novel, “Survival of the Friendliest.” Both he and McCullough said the term “survival of the fittest” was mistaken, particularly when it comes to humans.
If it’s bugs, roses or our fellow primate bonobos, compassion and teamwork function with several animals. The more friends that you have, the more people that you help, the more successful that you are, Hare said.
For instance, Hare, who studies bonobos and other primates, contrasts violent chimpanzees that assault visitors to bonobos where the animals do not destroy but help strangers out. Male bonobos are much more competitive in mating than their male equivalents in chimping, Hare said.
McCullough considers bonobos just as the examples. Many animals are not polite or helpful to others, only near associates and it’s one of the traits that distinguishes humans from other creatures, he said. And this is because of the human ability to think, he added.
Human beings know that there is not much distinction between our near relatives and outsiders and that every day, whether we are kind to them, outsiders will support us, McCullough said.
Reasoning “is the secret ingredient, which is why we donate blood when there are disasters,” and that most developed countries invest at least 20 per cent of their income on social services including healthcare and schooling, McCullough said.
Our best acts of kindness always come from seeing issues through. If you question people who donate live kidneys to others, they typically don’t speak about emotions as often as they can but offer rational explanations why they’ve done so, McCullough said.
Additionally, Duke’s Hare refers to mom bears in order to explain the nature and physiology of empathy and their violent mean reverse side. He said studies point to certain brain areas, the medial prefrontal cortex, temporal parietal junction and other spots as being either activated or dampened by emotional activity. The same areas grant us the power to cultivate and care but also, he said, to dehumanize and exclude.
These areas in the brain are activated when the mother bears feed and nurture their cubs and it allows them to be generous and loving, Hare said. So if at the moment someone gets next to the mother bear, it creates structures of danger to the brain in the same locations.
The same bear is the most violent and harmful of all.
Hare says he’s seen it in people. Any of the same people who are compassionate to relatives and good associates get angrier as they feel harassed by the outsiders. He refers to the world’s existing polarization.
“More isolated groups are more likely to be feel threatened by others and they are more likely to morally exclude, dehumanize,” Hare said. “And that opens the door to cruelty.”
But ultimately, not only are our bodies conditioned to be good, they are thanking us for being sweet, scientists have concluded.
“Doing kindness makes you happier and being happier makes you do kind acts,” said labor economist Richard Layard, who studies happiness at the London School of Economics and wrote the new book “Can We Be Happier?”
University of California Riverside psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky has put that concept to the test in numerous experiments over 20 years and repeatedly found that people feel better when they are kind to others, even more than when they are kind to themselves.
“Acts of kindness are very powerful,” Lyubomirsky said.
She asked subjects in one experiment to do an extra three acts of kindness a week for other people, and asked a different group to do three acts of self-kindness. They may be little, like someone opening a door, or large. Even the citizens who were compassionate to others were becoming better and becoming more linked to the world.
The same happened with capital, using it to support others and not to benefit yourself. Lyubomirsky says that she feels this is because people waste so much time talking and stressing about themselves, that when they talk of someone and doing acts of kindness, it redirects them away from their own issues.
Oxford’s Curry examined peer-reviewed work such as that of Lyubomirsky, and noticed at least 27 findings suggesting the same thing: being kind helps us feel stronger.
Though this is not just sentimental. This is real.
Lyubomirsky says a review of people with multiple sclerosis, and discovered that by supporting someone they feel stronger physically. She also observed that the genes that cause inflammation were tuned down more in people performing more actions of kindness than in people who don’t do. She said she’s found more antiviral genes in people who have done acts of kindness in coming studies.
The net advantage of empathy is far from making Rev. Msgr fooled. John Enzler, chairman of the Archdiocese of Washington Catholic Charities.
He said his life has been blessed by the kindness of others, so “it brings me happiness and fulfillment and great joy to feel like my random acts of kindness makes a huge difference in the lives of others.”
“It’s been all about kindness, and people pay it forward in ways beyond measure,” the social services charity chief wrote in an email.