There is no good selfless deed, and that’s what makes it awesome! Wait, wait, don’t rush to argue with me. I have science to back it up! Not only will random acts of kindness (altruism) brighten up your day and somebody else’s day at the same time, they can also be used as a powerful tool for pulling people out of depression and even addictions. It’s all about brain chemistry, and that’s what makes it so fascinating.
Kindness Chemicals Cocktail – Have a Sip!
Our brain controls more than we can imagine. Being kind to others feels good due to chemicals that our brain releases once we commit an act of kindness. Once you hold the door open for someone else or give back a toy a toddler dropped, your brain gets an oxytocin boost. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter responsible for bonding, trust, and relationship-building. Helping and being nice to others increases its levels for approximately 3-4 minutes. That’s why doing it regularly makes you a consistently better person.
By the way, spraying oxytocin into someone’s nose makes that person more sensitive and more likely to relate to the feelings of others. But never do that. This is very new science, and no one knows which flood gates it might to open!
This is another neurotransmitter whose role is to regulate mood and promote altruism. It is often referred to as “happiness hormone”. An incredible thing about serotonin is that its levels increase in the person who performed an act of kindness, in the one who received it, and in everyone who witnessed it. Therefore, technically, your random act of kindness benefited you as well no matter how selfless you planned it to be. So, don’t be shy. Indulge in your hormonal cocktail. You’ve just done something good and the warm fuzzy feeling in your chest is your deserved immediate benefit.
Interesting fact: consistent serotonin and oxytocin release helps balance out dopamine-related addictions (drugs and alcohol abuse, emotional eating, and addictions to other pleasurable sensations and behaviors)
Dopamine and endorphins.
These two often work together. Dopamine is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter that our brain produces during every pleasurable experience. Be it delicious food, alcohol or drugs use, sexual intercourse, or hitting your goal – levels of dopamine released into the system differ based on the experience. Historically, dopamine release is a part of reward system, and it happens to help us keep going. Say you see a tree in the distance with nice fruit. Every time you get closer, your brain gives you a small shot of dopamine to motivate you. To reward you with a nice portion once you reach your goal. Meanwhile endorphins mask any pain you might have along your way. They mimic “morphine high” in your brain. By the way, that’s why you don’t feel pain when you laugh. Technically, diaphragm contractions of that intensity would be rather painful.
Altruism: Genetically Predisposed Ultimate Giving
I love science. Science can help you find an explanation for being a saint or a jerk. Joking, joking…
But there’s evidence that altruism is genetically predisposed. Human COMT gene has two variations. (let’s call them A and B for simplicity) People with variation A are more likely to show altruistic behaviors as compared to people with a B variation. This is related to complex science of dopamine processing, as well as its interaction with oxytocin and other chemicals. Simply speaking, some people are more compassionate, cooperative, and altruistic because they are wired for it. This, however, doesn’t mean that you can’t nurture these qualities in a person who doesn’t have a specific gene variation. Unless this person has a specific brain condition that impairs emotional processing. (e.g. absent or significantly smaller-sized amygdala, which is a very rare condition).
Science and data aside, go and do something good just because it feels good. All of us are here with one and only purpose – to experience joy through chosen experiences. And to drag as many people to the bright side as possible. Stay happy, do random acts of kindness consistently. Find joy in simple (and often free) things around.