Research shows kindness activates anti-inflammatory genes, while anger activates pro-inflammatory genes. Kindness also stimulates the brain’s reward center. Kinder people are thus happier and healthier, and they live longer. Kind intentions that translate into kind actions are even more rewarding than kind intentions alone.
Kindness has both a genetic and environmental basis. Scientists have found different genes associated with kindness. One of these genes is related to the oxytocin receptor (the bonding hormone). Further exploration of this gene has shown how it links with the environment to influence kind disposition — people with a fully expressed kindness gene remain kind despite facing fear and difficulties; people with a weak kindness gene give up kindness quickly. Researchers estimate that about 30 to 60 percent of kindness is genetically determined, while the rest depends on life experiences and individual choices.
With this genetic and environmental interaction, people display different degrees of kindness. Some of us have a very negative view of life. We find it difficult to be kind to anyone.
Others plan kindness as a way to get rewards. Their kindness is a conditional investment. They are kind to people of power, to those who can send goodies and toys their way. They are self-serving and see people as a means to an end.
Next are people who are kind to their supervisors as well as to those who depend on them. These are good people. They honor others. They choose kindness, not because it will reward them, but because kindness is the right way to live. Kindness in humans generally reaches up to this depth.
The next stage involves being kind to every part of creation, including even inanimate objects. People choosing such universal kindness respect every part of creation. Their kindness doesn’t mean they’ll start talking to the cutlery; it means they are gentle with everything they touch.
The final depth of kindness extends even to those who you know willfully and intentionally hurt you. It takes superhuman effort to continue to be kind to someone you know wants to hurt you. Only a precious few reach that depth. Such commitment to kindness anchors you in who you are. It is a worthy goal to pursue.
Gauge your level of kindness today and see if you can go deeper. It will be worthy pursuit, one that can challenge and inspire you for a very long time. Because, you can always be kinder!
Dr. Amit Sood answers your questions about stress, resilience, happiness, relationships, and related topics in his column. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.