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How Being Nice Can Be Good For Your Health

Studies showing buying someone a cup of coffee and other random acts of kindness can have health benefits.

The old saying goes “it pays to be nice.” Turns out a smile, saying good morning or paying the tab for the person behind you at Starbucks may payoff with  better health. A behavioral health counselor  talks about the health benefits of random acts of kindness. 

Highlights from the interview with Jacqueline Juarez, a behavioral health counselor with Parkland Health and Hospital System:

Why did someone decide to do this study? "I think it was more about the trends that started when this 'random acts of kindness' began. Back in the late '80s or early '90s, Anne Herbert wrote a book about random acts of kindness as a counter to random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty. She came up with this phrase 'random acts of kindness' and 'senseless acts of beauty' and it was really in response to that. And it just kind of took off and I think scientists realized 'there’s something to this.'”

What did they find mentally? "Less mortality, reduced blood pressure, reduced stress, reduced depression. It’s really good for people who have anxiety issues to maybe try to push themselves to do something as random as making eye contact and a smile. It takes away this veil of solitude and I think there’s a sense of connectedness that happens, and then possibly, an open for more interpersonal connection."

Physically, what does it do? "Physically, we see a release of a hormone called oxytocin in people who do random acts of kindness. They're kind people. And that allows for lower blood pressure, better heart protection because of lower blood pressure, and less stress hormone released as well. So then we see less inflammation, things like that.” 

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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.