Uncovering the scientific benefits of being nice
Imagine someone comes up to you and compliments your appearance, gives you praise for completing a task, or just passes along an encouraging word. It's probably going to make you feel pretty good, right? Kind words are more important than you think. In fact, studies have shown that giving compliments can have just as strong of an impact as receiving them.
Today is "World Compliment Day." Originally it was a national holiday for the Netherlands, but soon its message and popularity spread around the world. It addresses the basic human need for recognition and appreciation. According to World Compliment Day's website, March 1st is all about "consciously reflecting on what someone in your area does well and letting that person know he/she is sincerely appreciated for that."
There are some obvious benefits of complimenting someone:
- It brings people happiness
- It increases others' self-esteem
- It can increase productivity at work
- It can cause others to compliment by "paying it forward"
But there are some scientific reasons why being nice to others is good for your own health as well.
It actually changes your brain
The reason why doing nice things makes you feel good is because of chemical reactions in the brain. Similar to exercise, unselfishness can release endorphins and boost levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for that feeling of satisfaction you get when helping someone.
It reduces stress and anxiety
Engaging in behaviors intended to help others is an easy, inexpensive, and effective strategy for reducing the impact of your own emotional stress and anxiety. Researchers found that participants who engaged in kind acts displayed significant and sustained increases in positive moods like joy, interest, and alertness.
It’s good for your heart
Kindness releases oxytocin, a hormone that causes an increase of nitric oxide in blood vessels. This expands blood vessels and therefore reduces blood pressure. So when someone says you have a "big heart" it's probably more apt to say you have a "healthy heart."
As a bonus: Being nice can lead to more civility in our society. According to Pew Research, 60% of internet users said they had witnessed someone being called offensive names online. Words can hurt, whether they're spoken directly or being read on a screen. Showing empathy on the internet—especially with people you don't know—can make the world a healthier place.
It's pretty easy to see how everyone can participate in World Compliment Day. When you see someone, think about who they are and give them a compliment based on a quality you admire about them. Just be positive, honest, and sincere with your words. Be sure to smile—they are contagious, after all. You can even make a written note to give to someone if you're too shy to meet them in person.
But don’t try to fake it. Evidence suggests that fake compliments are likely to have the opposite effect of genuine ones. Always be positive with your remarks; we all enjoy being appreciated.