Believe it or not, being nice is actually built into the human body.
UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner used brain imaging technology to look at how people react to images of human suffering, and the part of the brain that indicates compassion lit up quite a bit among the subjects in the study.
So while people often talk of it being a “dog eat dog world,” really humans are designed to care for each other. And while friendliness and kindness are beneficial to the recipients, they are also useful for those doing the acts of good will.
Selflessness Equals Success
In order to make it up the corporate ladder, many veteran entrepreneurs may tell young businessmen and women to do whatever it takes to get to the top, invoking a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. University of Pennsylvania Wharton School professor Adam Grant thinks otherwise.
In his book Give and Take, Grant provides illustrations of prosperous figures who succeeded by being unselfish. For example, Abraham Lincoln withdrew from a 1830s Senate race which caused him to gain the support of his opponent in the next election. Lincoln paid it forward and then had it repaid back to him. So while clawing your way up the ladder, elbows pushing your adversaries out of the way may be one way to find wealth and success in business. But the other way—being altruistic and charitable—may be just as beneficial to your reputation, wealth, and mental and physical health.
In 1979, psychologists coined the term “helpers’ high” to describe the euphoria felt by volunteers after charity work. As it turns out, as valuable as volunteering is to the beneficiaries, assisting others is just as beneficial to the helpers, making them happier and healthier.
Chemically, when a person does something good for someone else, the brain releases dopamine, a hormone associated with positive thinking, coordination, and heart rate and vascular response. Other chemicals that get released when it comes to being kindhearted include endogenous opioids like endorphins, which relieve stress, increase pleasure, and help fight depression (Legally Blonde‘s Elle Woods was on to something when she said: “Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands”).
A Longer Life
Since being generous can make you more successful, healthier, and happier, as a result, it can also make you live longer. A study by London researchers found that older people who are happy have a 35 percent lower risk of dying over a five-year period when compared to unhappy people (researchers measured happiness levels over the course of day and then checked in with these people five years later to track who had passed away). So supporting others and doing good can make all people live longer and better lives in some aspect.
The Bottom Line
In addition to perhaps putting a smile on someone else’s face, being nice benefits you career, brain, and life. They say it takes more muscles to frown than smile, and it may also take a toll on your career and life.