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How Random Acts of Kindness Can Boost Your Health During the Pandemic

A group of children and young adults help distribute produce in their community.

Thomas Barwick/DigitalVision/Getty

Key Takeaways

  • National Random Acts of Kindness Day is on Feb. 17, creating an opportunity to show others you care.
  • Kindness has been shown to benefit our emotional wellbeing and improve overall happiness.
  • Research has found that performing random acts of kindness can also increase our longevity and boost heart health.

Amid the challenges of the pandemic, now more than ever is a time to be kind. Simply sending a thoughtful note to a faraway friend, shoveling snow from an elderly neighbor’s driveway, or agreeing to an afternoon of free babysitting for a busy parent can make a huge difference in someone’s day.

But random acts of kindness aren’t only meaningful to the recipient—they provide important benefits to those who perform them, as well.

“Performing a selfless act increases one’s sense of gratitude, as one is in a position to do something generous for another person,” explains Desreen N. Dudley, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Teladoc. “Doing a kind act for another person can increase the sense of feeling connected to another person, which in turn helps people see the worth and value in their own lives.”

With National Random Acts of Kindness Day coming up on February 17, let’s take a look at the science-backed health benefits of being kind to others and how these acts of service can offer extra emotional support during the pandemic.

Mental Health Benefits of Kindness

Being kind can go a long way toward improving your emotional wellbeing. A 2019 study in The Journal of Social Psychology found that people who performed kindness activities for seven days saw a boost in happiness. The degree to which their happiness increased was directly tied to the number of acts of kindness they performed.

“Giving back to society is not a purely altruistic concept—we feel better by giving or being kind, therefore the act benefits both parties,” says Meghan Marcum, PsyD, chief psychologist at A Mission for Michael, a mental and behavioral health treatment center in Southern California.

There are a few reasons why being kind benefits our mental health, including biological and social effects.

“Performing acts of kindness has measurable impacts on our mental health by increasing the neurotransmitters in the brain that makes us feel satisfied and overall good: serotonin and dopamine. Random acts of kindness toward others can increase oxytocin, which is a hormone that makes us feel connected to each other and that we can trust each other,” says Rachel Slick, LCSW, a behavioral health clinician at UCHealth, which recently has launched a health initiative focused on random acts of kindness.

She says that these three chemicals can make a profound impact on our mood and overall happiness.

Being kind can help reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well. A study in the journal Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science found that people who practiced a kindness mindset had 23% lower cortisol levels than the average person.

What’s more, doing something nice for others helps strengthen social ties and the sense that you’re part of a community.

Diana Samuel, MD

These acts can help you feel more connected with others which helps strengthen a sense of belonging and can directly influence loneliness and improve relationships.

— Diana Samuel, MD

“These acts can help you feel more connected with others which helps strengthen a sense of belonging and can directly influence loneliness and improve relationships,” says Diana Samuel, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

Slick adds that this effect is especially important right now, when many people are feeling lonely and isolated during the pandemic.

“It is important to foster a sense of connectedness even when we may not be spending time together face-to-face,” she says.

Given its proven emotional benefits, kindness is now sometimes used as a part of treatment for depression and anxiety, says Hoorie Siddique, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist, and owner of Embolden Psychology.

Hoorie Siddique, PhD

Part of depression and anxiety are feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Practicing random acts of kindness makes people feel helpful, optimistic, efficacious, and boosts self-esteem.

— Hoorie Siddique, PhD

“Part of depression and anxiety are feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Practicing random acts of kindness makes people feel helpful, optimistic, efficacious, and boosts self-esteem,” she says. “For many of the young folks I work with, I actually recommend volunteering or community service as part of the treatment plan. And practicing kindness decreases overall anxiety and depression.”

Kindness Improves Physical Health

Your physical health may also improve when you regularly treat others with kindness throughout your life. Part of these health benefits may be positive side effects of the effects of kindness on our brains and emotions.

For example, reducing the stress hormone cortisol can lead to improvements in overall wellbeing, explains Dudley. According to the Cleveland Clinic, having high levels of cortisol for an ongoing period of time can create inflammation and increase your risk of weight gain and heart disease.

Other physical health benefits may be derived from the neurotransmitters released by acts of kindness, says Slick.

Rachel Slick, LCSW

Our brains are connected to our bodies. There is evidence of increased oxytocin having physical benefits to health, like lowering our blood pressure and dilating blood vessels, which ultimately improves our cardiovascular health.

— Rachel Slick, LCSW

“Our brains are connected to our bodies. There is evidence of increased oxytocin having physical benefits to health, like lowering our blood pressure and dilating blood vessels, which ultimately improves our cardiovascular health,” she explains.

Being of service to others may also increase your longevity. A five-year study from the Association for Psychological Science found that older married adults who provided support to their spouses, friends, neighbors, and relatives had a significant reduction in mortality.

Those findings were echoed in a study in The Journals of Gerontology. It found that in an ethnically diverse group of older adults, those who gave social support to others experienced much lower rates of mortality compared with those who didn’t offer assistance.

Giving Back During the Pandemic

Consistency is important if you want to reap the physical and emotional health benefits of kindness. Don’t think of it a random act of kindness as a one-and-done event, but rather part of an ongoing everyday effort.

Meghan Marcum, PsyD

The key is to repeat acts of kindness throughout your week in order for the benefits to be long-lasting. Ongoing acts of kindness toward yourself, co-workers, neighbors, and loved ones can promote the continued feelings associated with making a random act of kindness.

— Meghan Marcum, PsyD

“The key is to repeat acts of kindness throughout your week in order for the benefits to be long-lasting. Ongoing acts of kindness toward yourself, co-workers, neighbors, and loved ones can promote the continued feelings associated with making a random act of kindness,” says Marcum.

Opportunities to perform random acts of kindness might have been more abundant in normal times. But during the pandemic, financial challenges and health precautions mean you might need to get creative to be of genuine service to someone else.

Here are a few free or low-cost ways to perform random acts of kindness during the pandemic:

  • Reach out to a loved one. “Check in with friends and family, just to let them know you’re thinking about them,” says Marcum, adding that you could also send a postcard to a friend you haven’t connected with in a while.
  • Give an exhausted parent a break. “Babysit for a parent who works from home, while their children are engaged in virtual learning. Being able to help the child, maybe making a snack, or even serving lunch can be tremendously helpful to a parent,” says Siddique.
  • Praise a local business. “Leave a positive Google or Yelp review after a good experience at a local restaurant or store,” says Slick. “This is especially helpful to them during the challenges of the pandemic.”
  • Donate your gently used clothing. Towels and blankets can be especially welcome at animal shelters, Slick suggests.
  • Send a thank-you email to a colleague.
  • Set aside time to volunteer. “Food drives need helpers to arrange meal boxes and hand out at drive-up locations,” says Dudley.
  • Help a neighbor maintain their yard or driveway. “Plow snow or mow the lawn of someone that could use the extra help,” says Dr. Samuel.

And if you do have room in your budget, consider paying for another customer’s coffee or meal next time you’re at the drive-through. In December 2020, a Dairy Queen customer who did this sparked a chain reaction, leading to more than 900 cars of customers covering each other’s meals in Minnesota. It shows how one small act of kindness can snowball into something larger that makes everyone’s days just a little bit brighter.

What This Means For You

National Random Acts of Kindness Day (Feb. 17) is right around the corner, but there are lots of good reasons to consider celebrating all year long. Research shows that being kind to others can boost your happiness, increase your longevity, and even help curb symptoms of depression and anxiety.

While the pandemic has made performing traditional acts of kindness trickier than usual, there are still plenty of free and safe ways to show someone you care. Consider sending a thoughtful postcard to a friend, babysitting for a parent who needs a break, or shoveling an elderly neighbor’s driveway. The recipient may also be inspired to pay it forward, creating a chain reaction of kindness in the community. 

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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. McCraty R, Barrios-Choplin B, Rozman D, Atkinson M, Watkins AD. The impact of a new emotional self-management program on stress, emotions, heart rate variability, DHEA and cortisolIntegr Physiol Behav Sci. 1998;33(2):151-170. Published April 1998. doi:10.1007/BF02688660

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  6. BBC. More than 900 cars 'pay-it forward' in random act of drive-through kindness. Published December 9, 2020.