Most of us will have heard the expression ‘be kind’ and we will go through our lives trying to live by that motto but kindness is so much more than something that makes you a ‘nice’ person. In fact, kindness has been extensively studied within positive psychology and has been shown to have many benefits to both the recipient and the giver.
As a species, human beings are hard wired to work as communities. We do not do very well on our own, so we know that in order for us to thrive, we need to cooperative with our fellow humans. From a young age, we mimic this behaviour and learn the importance of being kind to each other.
However, in a world where we are increasingly under pressure, we can often feel isolated and as a result, kindness can become something we forget to focus upon, however many studies have found that kindness can benefit us socially, physically and emotionally.
Here are some ways in which kindness has been proven to benefit us:
1. Kindness Makes us Feel Good – you may have noticed that when you are kind to someone you get that nice warm feeling too. This is not a coincidence, when we are kind our brain releases a chemical called serotonin, this is our feel good hormone which helps us not only experience a positive sense of wellbeing but also a sense of contentment.
2. Kindness Reduces Stress and Anxiety – There are several studies on the relationship between kindness, stress and anxiety which show that when someone practices kindness, their anxiety levels reduce. This will certainly be connected to the release of positive neurotransmitters like serotonin and oxytocin. One study by Dignity Health in 2019, found that 82% of travellers found travelling stressful but when they were asked to focus upon helping others, they reported that more than half of the travellers surveyed found that helping someone else made them feel happier.
3. Kindness Keeps us Healthier - Research by Christine Carter found that people who volunteer experience lower levels of aches and pains. Carter also states that “People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.”
4. Kindness Makes You Happier - A 2010 Harvard Business School survey of happiness in 136 countries found that people who are altruistic—in this case, people who were generous financially, such as with charitable donations—were happiest overall.
How can we practice kindness?
When people tell you to ‘be kind’ it can feel patronising or belittling, most of us do not go through our daily lives intentionally trying to be unkind so what do they expect from us. When we talk about the power of kindness, maybe a better call to action would be ‘do kind’ because if we want to reap the benefits that kindness can bring we need to deliberately perform acts of kindness. According to happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, there are specific ways in which we can do this.
Quality not quantity - If we do too little, it is unlikely we will notice any long term benefits of kindness. Letting one person out in the traffic once a month is unlikely to bring any rewards. Equally, if we do too much we could end up overburdened, resentful and stressed which would be counterproductive. Choose an act of kindness that will enable you to reach middle ground, focus less on the frequency and more upon the meaning of the act itself.
Mix it up - Vary the acts of kindness you perform to avoid them feeling like chores or losing their ‘specialness’ and feeling burdensome.
Keep quiet - Do your acts without any expectation of reward or acknowledgement, when we do something nice and wait for positive feedback we can quickly become resentful that they were not appreciated.
Create a ripple - One of the wonderful things about kindness, is that it can create a wonderful ripple effect. Research shows that when we are the recipient of someone’s kindness, we are likely to be more altruistic to others in return.
Want to give it a go?
If you feel inspired to make a difference and bring more deliberate kindness into your life you could try these exercises which have all produced positive results in research studies:
Find one wholly unexpected kind thing to do and just do it. Notice what happens to your mood.
Perform a random act of kindness everyday
Call a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while and let them know you were thinking of them
Donate old clothes, books, items etc
Practicing kindness will bring you many wonderful benefits but remember that the most important person that you need to be kind to is yourself, so make sure you remember to put yourself on the list too.
Switch off your work computer half an hour earlier
Switch off your phone
Do your favourite exercise
Give yourself permission to do nothing
Connect with a person who makes you feel good