Effects of Kindness on the Brain
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is a waste of time. These gestures are full of affection, appreciation, and true wisdom. They benefit the brain and connect us with others in the most complete and noble way possible.
It’s interesting that Charles Darwin has already told us about the importance of kindness in human beings. According to him, this is our strongest and most valuable instinct, the one that makes survival possible not only for humanity as a species, but also for all living beings. However, kindness is not practiced with enough frequency.
Don’t stop at good intentions; plant the seed of kindness in every one of your actions. Because even if others don’t notice it, your mind will always be in tune with your heart.
Kindness has a very concrete space in the brain. It shares the same neural networks as empathy. While one identifies needs, the other translates this sensation into a spontaneous and profound action to promote good and offer help and happiness.
This exceptional mechanism has a concrete goal: to make us understand that we’re much stronger when we’re connected to others than when we’re alone. This is an interesting point that we’d like to look at a little more deeply.
We’re programmed for kindness
Jerome Kagan is a well-known emeritus professor of psychology at Harvard University who defends the idea that the brain is programmed for kindness. It’s a biological tendency, like Charles Darwin said, where love, compassion, and care have a specific end in mind: to allow us to survive as a species.
However, just because the brain comes with this program already installed, doesn’t mean we’re inclined towards kindness as a priority. Because other biological tendencies are also important, and unfortunately have a lot of influence over our behavior. These include anger, jealousy, and of course, violence.
For his part, Daniel Goleman reminds us that one of the most intense emotions for the brain is compassion. The entire limbic system reverberates when we feel it. Also, neurochemicals like oxytocin are released, which orchestrates a whole melody of positive emotions, where empathy, reciprocity, and the desire to do good ennoble us even more as a species.
This is a wonderful phenomenon that deserves to be practiced.
For these experts on human emotions, kindness is an inherited instinct that taught our ancestors that in a hostile environment, it’s not the strongest who survives, but rather the one with the best support network.
Emotions are contagious, and our mirror neurons allow us to identify fear in another person to anticipate a risk, or to understand that helping is one way to invest in ourselves, so that in the future, we’ll also be helped in times of need.
Exercise compassion to care for your mental health
Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at University of California Berkeley (United States) and co-director of the Greater Good Science Center, explains that the values that make up the backbone of modern societies completely tear down our natural tendency towards compassion and kindness.
Money is one thing that individualizes us, segregates us, and makes us compete with each other. We lose our sense of social cohesion and the desire to guarantee the well-being of our peers, because we suddenly turn into opponents of each other.
So much so that, as Keltner explains in books like Born to Be Good, the richest people are, on average, the least compassionate.
Practicing compassionate meditation
However, it’s interesting to note that compassion, like kindness, can be trained. Once you become aware that you’ve distanced yourself too much from your essence and drifted towards selfishness, materialism, or a lack of authenticity in your personal relationships, maybe it’s time to reflect on the need for change.
According to a study published in the journal Psychological Science, adults can be trained through compassionate meditation to reactivate these areas of the brain that were dormant or simply went unused.
- Compassionate meditation is a Buddhist technique based on visualization.
- It involves imagining personal situations in which a loved one is going through a difficult time.
- You have to experience that suffering in order to switch on those emotional brain structures, like the insula, related specifically to the need to offer comfort and support.
- The visualization starts with thinking about people close to you, but gradually you expand the circle, passing through friends, coworkers, neighbors, and acquaintances until you get to complete strangers.
- The basic idea is to empathize with the other person’s needs, pain, and fear, and to experience closeness with the person suffering, whoever that might be.
This type of meditation exercise, which involves proper control of breathing and contact with your deepest emotions, shows evidence of neuroplasticity, according to the researchers. It allows us to alleviate stress, and to invest in the welfare of others with an inner wealth that’s capable of changing the world.
Because kindness is the only investment that never fails.