Next time you're inclined to rip someone a new one, scowl at a coworker, or just be straight-up rude to the person on the MRT who JUST WILL NOT GET OUT OF THE WAY, consider this: Being a jerk can drag down your health. Literally.
Doing the opposite of this—aka being nice—won't just make your grandma proud. Kindness can legit add YEARS to your life span. It can also give you a quick pick-me-up when you'd rather punch a wall. Or stress eat. Or whatever. The best part? You can still reap the many benefits of kindness without quitting your day job.
Here are nine ways small acts of benevolence boost your physical and mental health.
1. It Makes You Hotter
OK, we're all concerned with our appearance. So get this: A group of men and women were asked to judge the attractiveness of 60 expressionless photos of female faces in a study conducted by Yan Zhang and colleagues at China's Huazhong University of Science and Technology. Participants pegged the pics whose subjects the researchers described with kinder qualities (i.e., "decent," "honest,") as much prettier than shots of gals the researchers described as "hostile" or "mean."
This isn't to say you should bite your tongue if you have nothing nice to say. (You can ask for—and get—what you want without being a jerk.) But these findings are a testament to the power of a gentler approach to, well, just people...in general.2. Other People Like You More
Social connectedness is a HUGE factor when it comes to keeping our bodies and minds in top form. People who feel they belong to a group live longer, think clearer, and face a lower risk of heart disease than their lonelier counterparts. (They're also more optimistic, less depressed, and don't feel as anxious.) Consider kindness with others one giant leap towards rocking your next annual checkup.
And while in-person experience always trumps digital, even Facebook can trigger that warm feeling of belonging. (Provided you don't OD on it.) Compliment someone via your newsfeed today in lieu of cutting into a celebrity's appearance and see how much more awesome you feel.3. You Get More Sh*t Done
Employees in companies who endorse a more compassionate office culture (think: not living in fear of a micromanaging boss or fretting that your colleagues are all out to get you) have been shown to work more effectively, be physically healthier, and feel more motivated to pump out good work. (If that intern just isn't hacking it, try taking the pressure off her a little—and show an interest in what she does outside of the office—to see how she improves!)4. Stress Doesn't Affect You as Much
Expressing affection to someone else—particularly someone you love—can protect your nervous system from the anxiety of everyday life. In 2007, Arizona State University's Kory Floyd tested how much of the stress hormone cortisol cropped up in 15 men's and 15 women's spit after each were exposed to several seriously un-fun stressors. Following these awful tasks, a handful of participants were then asked to write letters to someone they loved listing all the reasons they felt so fondly towards them. Letter writers' saliva showed markedly lower cortisol levels than those who didn't get the chance to express affection.
The researcher's conclusion? The simple act of telling a person how big a fan you are of 'em can make you more resilient in the face of hassles, frustrations, and physical discomfort.
5. You Go to Sleep Happier
A team of psychologists from Yale University led by researcher Emily Ansell sent daily cell-phone check-ins to a group of 77 adults ranging in age from 18 to 44. For two weeks, participants reported each night how many stressful events they experiences (from work and family issues to interpersonal frustrations and health-related problems), how many kind acts they performed, and whether their overall mood felt positive or negative.
The more instances participants helped someone else out in a day—even by simple feats, like holding a door open—the lower their stress levels were come bedtime and the happier they felt, overall.6. You Get Sick Less