September 26, 2019
Do nice guys actually finish first? A new interdisciplinary research institute at UCLA is poised to explore whether mindfulness and kindness to others actually may make us healthier—reducing our own depression, as well as the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
According to a report by MSN, research by UCLA scientists already has shown that mindfulness and kindness actually alter the behavior of genes, turning down those that promote inflammation, which can lead to heart disease or certain cancers, and turning up the activity of genes that protect against infections.
But the ultimate goal of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute is to spread kindness and promote a more humane world. The plans to develop training tools to help practice kindness and spread them through online programs, public lectures, media outreach and a free app called UCLA Mindful, which already is available
A $20 million gift from the Bedari Foundation, established by philanthropists Jennifer and Matthew C. Harris, will provide seed funding for the institute’s research projects.
“Our vision is that we will all live in a world where humanity discovers and practices the kindness that exists in all of us,” said Matthew Harris, the foundation’s co-founder and a 1984 UCLA graduate. “Much research is needed to understand why kindness can be so scarce in the modern world. As we seek at Bedari to bridge the divide between science and spirituality, through the establishment of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute we hope to educate and empower more and more people in the practice of kindness.”
“In the midst of current world politics, violence and strife, the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute seeks to be an antidote,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the UCLA division of social sciences, which will house the venture.
Researchers agreed on an academic definition for kindness: an act that enhances the welfare of others as an end in itself, MSN reports.. When it comes to kindness, the intention, rather than the outcome, is key. In other words, it’s the thought that counts, as the adage goes.
Kindness is complimenting someone to make them feel good, not to get what you want. It’s sending a donation to a charity even if the check gets lost in the mail. It’s contemplating a legitimate reason why a driver who cuts you off might be in a hurry.
Already, a range of researchers at UCLA are studying the types of questions that will be the basis of the institute’s work. For example, UCLA anthropologists are examining how kindness spreads from person to person and group to group. UCLA sociologists are analyzing how people who regularly act unkind might be encouraged to engage in kind acts instead, and UCLA psychologists are researching how kindness can improve people’s moods and reduce symptoms of depression.
UCLA researchers also have shown that kindness can significantly ease depression and anxiety. Michelle Craske, a professor of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Behavioral Sciences, has demonstrated that patients who received compassion training to cultivate joy, gratitude, loving-kindness and generosity, and engaged in kind acts — offering to help coworkers on projects, for instance — significantly reduced their depression. The improved mental health lasted throughout the six months researchers followed the patients, she said.
Craske plans to start a similar research project with high school students at risk of depression in the Imperial Valley and is expanding efforts to help UCLA students. Sharing the techniques of mindfulness training, she hopes, will help combat what many experts say is a national rise in mental health problems among students. Craske also is developing virtual reality tools to simulate positive environments that can help boost people’s sense of well-being.
Michael Irwin, a psychiatrist and neuroimmunologist, and his colleagues, have published several studies that found mindfulness and kindness actually change the brain and behavior of genes. One ongoing study of caregivers to people with Alzheimer’s disease has found mindfulness training — methods to focus on the present, aided by slow and deep breathing — reduced problems with sleep and depression. The free app developed by his UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center at the Semel Institute offers several meditations that cultivate mindfulness and kindness.
“My end goal is to have a broad platform to promote empathy and help people think about kindness,” Harris said. “It is, in terms of the perpetuation of our species and the ability to live with each other and nature, critically important.”
Research contact: @MSN