Aging with an Edge: In the End All That Counts Is Kindness

Kindness is good for the giver and for the recipient

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.-Dalai Lama 

Is it a coincidence that as I age kindness from others and kindness offered becomes the most important gift of all?


Where does it come from and why is it not always present since it feels so good to the one who gives and the one who offers is gifted too.I love the fact that neuroscience is affirming and confirming kindness role in keeping us healthy.

A new science of happiness is finding that these emotions can be readily cultivated in familiar ways, bringing out the good in others and in oneself. Here are some recent empirical examples:Experiences of reverence in nature or of being around those who are morally inspiring improves people’s sense of connection to one another and their sense of purpose.

Meditating on a compassionate approach to others shifts resting brain activation to the left hemisphere, a region associated with happiness, and boosts immune functions.Talking about what we are thankful for—in classrooms, at the dinner table or in a diary—boosts happiness, social well-being and health.Devoting resources to others, rather than indulging a materialist desire, brings about lasting well-being. 

David Di Salvo author of "Born to be Good"

I feel like it is so obvious but then again it is not at all- there are so many competing emotions like anger, greed hatred, aversion and others that cover up our natural desire to be kind.

Here are a few ways that age and kindness seem to be connected:

1. Experience and insight teach us that it is better to be kind than judgmental since we learn how it feels to be judged and decide generally that we would prefer to feel good and happy.

2. It is not enough to simply tolerate others- as we age we tend to develop an ability to identify more with more about those we feel less like.

3. Aging gives so many lessons about how critical it is to be treated with kindness. I left a 23 year marriage when it occurred to me that she would be sitting at my death bed and that I would not have a kind word or gesture at that important time of my life.

4. Kindness comes easier as you age due to the strength of our opinions and criticisms waning-takes too much energy to be mean or nasty to others and much less to be kind.

5. Finally, I feel that getting older made me more aware that each day is my last or at least I cannot predict that I will last beyond today and I don’t want my last breath to be on regrets nor do I want my last taste in my mouth to be bitter.

In March, an article in Science reported that people who spend more of their income on others are happier than people who spend more on themselves. Researchers found this to be true both for people they surveyed from the general population and among people they tested in a laboratory, where participants who were told to buy a gift for someone else reported feeling happier than people told to spend money on personal items.Research from neuroscience suggests these people aren’t just saying their generosity feels good because they think they’re supposed to. Instead, studies have shown that the psychological rewards of kindness are reflected in the neural circuitry of the brain.No study has directly measured brain activity in people who spend on others vs. those who spend on themselves. However, previous research has identified regions of the brain—the ventral striatum, the nucleus accumbens, the ventral tegmental area, and parts of the frontal cortex—that activate when people experience pleasure. In a study published last year, University of Oregon researchers showed that charitable giving made these “feel-good” parts of people’s brains light up, particularly when the giving was totally voluntary. The authors believe this is almost literal evidence of a “warm glow,” that pleasant feeling we get from doing something nice for someone else.Another study, published in 2006, got similar results. When researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes looked at participants’ brain activity, they found that charitable giving produced the same signs of pleasure and reward as receiving a monetary gift. Giving also triggered activity in the anterior prefrontal regions, located in the front-most parts of the brain, which are known to light up when we think about moral issues.What’s more, the researchers found that when participants made their charitable donations, the activity in these “moral processing” areas of the brain was greater among people who volunteered more in real life. According to the study’s authors, this suggests that practicing moral behavior strengthens the connection between the “moral” and the “reward” areas of the brain, making it more likely that altruism will feel good in the future.Together, these findings suggest that giving to others can be inherently rewarding, paying dividends in its own special currency: warm glows and feelings of happiness.

Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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