What is the purpose of including service to others, outreach, and volunteer work as part of the recovery journey? Throughout this article, it is hoped that not only will you realize the necessity of kindness in the rehabilitation of addicted lives, but for every human life.
“The UN defines volunteering as an act of free will that results in benefits to others…” (Jenkinson et al., 2013). What this definition does not highlight, is that there are also major benefits that are returned to the giver. This is often a minimized set of benefits that is currently still being researched. However, today, many scientists do agree that kindness is positively associated with an improved quality of life and the development of healthy coping mechanisms, as well as reduced levels of depression and lowered psychological distress (Jenkinson, et al, 2013).
If we delve slightly deeper into the issue, we find that not only does kindness benefit our mental health, but our biological health too. There is strong evidence to support a correlation between giving and general well-being, with research linking kindness to a longer life expectancy and reduced risk of being hospitalized. Lohmann (2017) points out that “people who volunteer report better health and happiness than people who don’t.” Studies also suggest that people who actively engage in volunteering on a regular basis have a 22% reduction in their risk of death. So, not only is kindness an act of humility and an antidote to pride, but the physiological benefits of kindness, on the delivering end, are potentially as powerful and as vital as those associated with healthy eating or exercise.
According to the works of Dr. David R. Hamilton, when we commit a kind act, our brain is stimulated to release dopamine, a well-known “feel good hormone” that creates happiness. Another chemical released during such actions, in particular, the warm satisfied feeling you get from being kind, is oxytocin. This “hug hormone”, does more than regulate female reproductive functions and is found in males and females. Oxytocin initiates the release of nitric oxide, which has been found to aid the dilation of blood vessels and so reduces blood pressure as well as the risk of heart disease. It also reduces stress responses and anxiety. Oxytocin also contributes to slowing the aging process, since the hormone reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation (two nasty culprits involved in causing heart disease and cancer.)
It is therefore completely plausible and believable to argue that, biologically, human beings are wired for kindness. Socially, we benefit from giving freely too, since being kind improves our interpersonal bonding, and helps us maintain better relationships. Studies have shown that one act of kindness encourages others to do the same, and so its effect and benefits spread. This concept, too, has its roots in science. In our earlier years, our ancestors were forced to learn to cooperate with one another. Cooperation meant survival, and so kindness became stitched into the human genome (Hamilton, 2015). We are built to benefit from giving kindness, not only receiving it.
Kindness is doing something without any expectation of return, but the irony is that the return is great anyway. A journey in recovery can only benefit from practicing kindness, and that is why we encourage it as part of our treatment approach.
We hold onto the following truth from Proverbs, which we use as the motto for our Centre’s Outreach team:
We give freely, but grow all the richer. (Proverbs 11:24)
If you need some inspiration to increase your kindness output, try one of the following:
Give someone a genuine compliment.
Hold the door open for someone.
Call someone to see how they are.
Make someone a cup of tea of coffee.
Give a small unexpected gift.
Give away your time and effort.
Give a donation to charity.
Visit a local orphanage or old age home and find out what they really need.
Take a neighbor some baked treats.
Sponsor a child to school or university.
With so many biological and emotional benefits rewarded to both parties, it’s hard not to get involved with practicing a little more kindness. It’s something that everyone could really use a bit more of.
“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”- Winston Churchill
Advani, P. (06/11/2013) “How Random Acts of Kindness Can Benefit Your Health.” Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/priya-advani/random-acts-of-kindness_b_3412718.html
Hamilton, D. (11/02/2015) “5 Side Effects of Kindness on Health: It’s Random Acts of Kindness Week” GoodNews Network. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/5-side-effects-of-kindness-on-health-2015/
Jenkinson, C., Dickens, A., Jones, K., Thompson-Coon, J., Taylor, R., Rogers, M., Bambra, C., Lang, I., & Richards, S. (23/08/2013) “Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival or volunteers.” BMC Public Health. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-13-77
Lohmann, R.C. (29/01/2017) “Achieving Happiness by Helping Others”. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/teen-angst/201701/achieving-happiness-helping-others
MacHill, M. (reviewed by Webberley, H.) (21/09/2015) “Oxytocin: What is it and what does it do?” Medical News Today. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/275795.php
Santi, J. (04/08/2017) “The Secret to happiness is Helping Others.” Time. http://time.com/collection-post/4070299/secret-to-happiness/