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How Science Proves Kind Students Have Better Lives at University

Susanne Gottlieb

Leaving adolescence behind and entering the world of real life, real decisions and personal responsibility is one of the biggest steps anyone makes in his or her young life. But leaving the firm and easy mapped out structures of your youth behind is about more than just starting a real job or enrolling in university. It’s a point in life at which everyone decides, based on nature and nurture, what kind of person he or she wants to become.

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How we deal with the people around us is one essential factor in that process. In order to live the most rewarding and fulfilling life possible, looking after oneself only isn’t the key to happiness. True satisfaction comes from how we treat those around us. It demands very little of us, but comes with a bag full of positive rewards.

Being kind to ourselves and to others changes the way we see ourselves, the way we see others, and the way others see us. We feel more compassionate, confident, useful, and in control of the situation around us. The beauty about kindness is, it not only makes the recipient feel better, but also the observers as well as the giver. Being kind to someone and seeing its effects on others gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling or chills. This feeling is called elevation; the joy of feeling it is what makes kindness contagious. But apart from feeling all fuzzy, kindness will have some very concrete improvements on your life. Don’t take it from us, take it from Science:

1. You feel happier

As a student, life is not always easy. Especially in an anonymous place like a university with all its demands, you might sometimes feel like you’re drowning with all the expectations aimed at you. Going at it with a positive attitude, aimed not only at yourself but also at others, will do wonders for your eventual triumph over this perceived helplessness.

A 2010 Harvard Business School survey of happiness in 136 countries found that:

  1. People who are altruistic were happier overall
  2. Being kind and its immediate effects on others have positive effects on your brain
  3. When we give to others, our neurological circuits show the same activity as if we were gaining something of material worth
  4. It causes elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high, often referred to as “Helper’s High.”

This pleasure will therefore make it more likely for us to repeat an act of kindness in the future. But not only giving makes us happier; helping does too. Regular volunteering increases happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and sense of control over life. In return, being unkind to ourselves is connected to depression and low psychological well-being.

2. You have better relationships

University is not you against the world. It’s a challenge that is taken up easier if you have confidantes and allies who help you make it through the classes, the studying, the disappointments, and the bureaucracy. But your personal relationships are not a given. You have to work for them and earn them. Being kind to your peers is an important step at obtaining those pivotal relationships.

Kindness also includes showing people that they matter to us. It sends out a message to others, no matter if they’re a friend or a stranger, that their lives matter. Even a small gesture can snap us out of a bad mood, brighten our day, and bring us closer to someone. These acts of kindness can be especially moving when they happen out of nowhere and hit the receiver unexpectedly.

Duke University professor Scott Huettel found that more selfless people have more activity in the part of the brain associated with taking someone else’s perspective and understanding their actions. Putting yourself into someone else’s shoes is a key element in anyone’s relationship to other people. If you’re an international student, it will help you to integrate into your foreign environment and make friends with people from many different cultures.

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3. You are in better health

Being kind is not only good for your mental state and social skills, it also gives you better health and a longer life. Kindness strengthens our immune system, reduces aches and pains, and boosts energy and strength.

According to research by the American Physiological Society, acts of kindness release a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone reduces the chance of inflammation and disease in our blood system, reduces the blood pressure, and thus slows aging at its source. Having a healthy blood circulation also decreases the risk of a heart disease, making a positive prevailing mood good for the heart.

4. You increase your chances of being admitted to a top university

Last year, the Making Caring Common Project from the Harvard School of Education published a report advocating for kindness rather than overachieving. The project considers that “the messages that colleges do send about concern for others are commonly drowned out by the power and frequency of messages from parents and the larger culture emphasising individual achievement.”

More than 80 stakeholders, including Harvard’s own admission officers, agreed with the report’s suggestion of decreasing the excessive academic performance pressure and the emphasis on personal achievement over good citizenship.

5. You perform better

Kind people not only feel stronger after helping others, but also more energetic. Therefore, amongst feeling better mentally and health wise, you also peak in your daily performances.

According to a study by Christine Carter from UC Berkeley, Greater Good Science Center, about half of participants in one study reported that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others.

Performing better is also relevant for the academic transcript, a very important factor for students. A better performance makes you more confident and successful in reaching your set goals in life, thus curbing your happiness, which will rub off on others. It’s an upwards spiral which will bring you to the top of your game. Being more perceptive to new information and more engaged in getting your chores done will decrease the amount of time you need to spend on university, and also allows you to socialise more with your new friends and explore the unknown which is your host country.

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Kindness is one of the most important habits we develop as young adults. It shapes how we succeed in the society we live in and how we relate to other people. It is an essential key to a happy life and allows us to lead an existence that is healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally. It not only enriches us in our private life, it also fuels our academic achievements, the pursuit of our goals in life, and makes us more successful. Kindness doesn’t ask much of us; it doesn’t cost a thing, but leaves a big mark in our own lives and in the lives of others. It’s an essential path to a happy life.


Are you a kind student?

Tell us about your act of kindness and live rent-free for a whole semester with the Uniplaces Scholarship! Registrations for 2017 are now open.

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How has kindness enriched your personal life and the life of others? Let us know in the comments. And remember: if you need student accommodation, you’ll find the perfect student home on Uniplaces.

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