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We all want to feel good about ourselves, but sometimes it can be challenging. Especially in times of stress, our self-esteem can take a hit. But there’s an easy way to help boost your self-esteem and your mood: kindness. Acts of kindness are the perfect antidote to feeling down and can even have long-term benefits on our mental health and well-being.
In celebration of February being International Boost Self Esteem Month, let’s talk about why kindness impacts our mood so profoundly and how we can use it to improve our confidence.
Why Does Kindness Impact Our Mood?
It turns out that acts of kindness activate brain regions associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Physiologically, kindness can positively change your brain. Being kind boosts serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters in the brain that give you feelings of satisfaction and well-being and cause the pleasure/reward centers in your brain to light up. Endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain killer, also can be released.”
This means that when we do something kind for someone else—like helping a neighbor carry their groceries up their stairs or offering a listening ear to a friend—our brains respond with feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin. These hormones act as natural antidepressants and leave us feeling happier and more positive about ourselves.
Studies have shown that engaging in acts of kindness has long-term benefits for our mental health by boosting our self-esteem over time. In the study, Reflecting on acts of kindness toward the self: Emotions, generosity, and the role of social norms (Exline, J. J., Lisan, A. M., & Lisan, E. R. 2012), participants who took part in “kindness challenges” reported improved feelings of self-worth compared to those who did not participate in the challenges.
“How do people respond, in terms of emotion and behavior, when prompted to recall an act of kindness from another person? As shown in two studies of undergraduates, responses differ based on whether the kindness is seen as normative—that is, whether it follows social norms related to the relational context and one’s past behavior. On the whole, normative kindnesses were linked with more positive emotion and less negative emotion than non-normative kindnesses.” (Exline, J. J., Lisan, A. M., & Lisan, E. R. 2012)
An example of normative kindness could be lending a helping hand to someone you know who needs assistance. Whereas non-normative kindness may look like holding the door open for someone. For some, holding the door open is seen as an act of respect, whereas for others, it may come across as the opposite. According to Slate, “’It is normative for men to hold doors open for women,’ the researchers write, but not for men to receive the same kindness. So while the women in the study didn’t feel patronized or even think twice about the courteous gesture—to them it seemed mundane and appropriate—the men were thrown off.”
The researchers concluded that committing acts of kindness is associated with increased optimism, improved physical health outcomes, and improved psychological well-being.
How Can We Use Kindness to Improve Our Confidence?
The beauty of using acts of kindness to boost self-esteem is that you don’t need any special skills or resources—just your willingness to be kind. Here are some simple ideas you can try today:
- Write a letter or email expressing your appreciation for someone in your life (e.g., a teacher, mentor, friend)
- Offer help or assistance to someone who needs it
- Participate in an organized volunteer event in your community (e.g., neighborhood cleanups)
- Give compliments freely to friends, family members, colleagues, etc.
- Make small donations to organizations whose causes you believe in or donate clothing or household items that you haven’t used in the past year to charities
- Send a positive text to 3 people
- Pay for the person’s coffee who is in line behind you or leave a generous tip for the café-worker when you can
- Leave any unused coupons at the checkout the next time you go grocery shopping
There's no denying that doing something kind for others feels good, but it also has positive effects on how we feel about ourselves. By committing random acts of kindness whenever possible, we can not only make somebody else's day brighter; we can also boost our confidence over time through increased optimism and improved physical health outcomes and improved psychological wellbeing. Being kind boosts our self-esteem through enhancing a sense of connection, meaning, impact, and purpose within ourselves and our communities. You can find volunteer opportunities on websites such as VolunteerMatch and local publications like Thrillest. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s start spreading some kindness today.
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Exline, J. J., Lisan, A. M., & Lisan, E. R. (2012). Reflecting on acts of kindness toward the self: Emotions, generosity, and the role of social norms. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(1), 45–56. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2011.626790
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