Everybody can appreciate acts of kindness. Some think kindness is something completely selfless that we do out of love and care, while others believe it is just a tool that we cunningly use to become more popular and reap the benefits.
Being kind is likely to make someone smile. A key theory about how we understand other people in neuroscience suggests that seeing someone else show an emotion automatically activates the same areas of the brain as if we experienced that emotion for ourselves.
The same mechanism also makes us empathize with others when they are feeling negative, which could make us feel down. This is particularly true for close friends and family, as our representations of them in the brain physically overlap with our representations of ourselves. Doing a kind act to make someone who is sad feel better can also make us feel good
Being kind opens up many different possibilities to start or develop a social connection with someone. Kind acts such as a buying someone a thoughtful present or even just a coffee strengthens friendships, and that in itself is linked to improved mood.
In one recent study, even children in their first year of secondary school recognized how being kind can make you feel “better as a person … more complete,” leading to feelings of happiness.
Work on the psychology of kindness shows that one out of several possible motivations is reciprocity, the returning of a favor. This can happen directly or indirectly.