Why You Can’t Help Being Kind

It turns out that most of us really don’t have a choice in being a kind person.

You Were Born that way

Apparently, we’re born with the urge to help others. In his book, “Why We Cooperate”, Michael Tomasello shows from observational studies that babies are naturally cooperative. For example, he observed that when watching unrelated adults struggling to open a door, 18-month old infants from various cultures immediately try to help. And this happens without any training as parents don’t tend to teach their children the rules of polite behaviour so early on. 

Being Kind to Belong

Our urge to help changes as children get older. From around 3 years old, we begin to enforce social norms- like objecting when someone breaks the rules of a game- sometimes viciously, and feeling guilt or shame when we do something we’re told is wrong. In this way, “being kind” becomes influenced by cultural practice- and our behaviour begins to adapt to rules that will keep us accepted by our group. We begin to be cruel to be kind.

To Get More Done 

We’ve seen the benefits of being kind to each other and cooperation for a long time. For example, when hunting together, our ancestors were able catch large game capable of feeding more people over longer periods of time. Working alone, this wouldn’t have been possible. Cooperation has thus become a survival mechanism. Our best chances of survival seem to have come from working with others to make up for individual blind spots.

Chances are, it Makes You Happy

Being kind to others increases your serotonin levels- a neurotransmitter that influences many things from your mood, appetite and sleep patterns to sexual desire and function. It should come as no wonder then that a study has shown that when looking at brain activity, charitable giving gives the same signs of pleasure and reward as receiving a monetary gift. 


Photo by Harsha K R / CC BY-SA 2.0  This article does not necessarily express the photographer’s views.

Annie Lennon

Writer with an insatiable curiosity for people, facts and places. Currently interested in learning more about making our way towards a blue economy.