Sometimes, kindness is perceived as something that largely benefits the person on the receiving end. Being too kind can also be seen as a weakness — we’ve all heard the saying “nice people finish last”.
As a result, some of us shy away from acts of kindness, even when it goes against our basic instincts.
However, as Hugh Mackay quotes in his book ‘The Kindness Revolution’: “The deepest sense of life’s meaning and purpose arises from our interdependence and, in turn, our willingness to relate to others and respond to their needs”.
Indeed, being kind is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health. So much so that wisdom from every culture across history recognises that kindness is something that all human beings need to experience and practice to be fully alive. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity, all the while boosting our own mental wellbeing.
What is kindness?
The dictionary definition of kindness is: ‘the quality of being generous, helpful, and caring about other people’. But what does this really mean?
First of all, kindness is more than behaviour. The art of kindness means harbouring a spirit of helpfulness, as well as being generous and considerate, and doing so without expecting anything in return. Kind goes beyond a simple concern and consideration for others and requires a greater understanding of the situation. Being kind is knowing when to speak up, and when to act.
While the aim of being kind is to heal, serve, and resolve situations, it’s important not to confuse it with words like “nice”, “soft” and “weak”. Kindness requires strength to say what needs to be said when “soft” dances around the subject. Kindness faces up to difficulty and discomfort where “weak” turns its back and takes the easy option.
While this all may seem complex, showing kindness is not a full-time job. You don’t have to be a saint! It’s a simple understanding of who has a need, who is suffering or who requires support — even if that person is yourself.
The benefits of being kind
Being kind is good for the body and mind. Kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, and improve mood. It can decrease blood pressure and cortisol, a stress hormone, which directly impacts stress levels. People who give back to people or the community in a balanced way also tend to be healthier and live longer. Kindness can increase your sense of connectivity with others, which can directly alleviate loneliness, improve low mood and enhance relationships in general.
So, what is happening inside our bodies that is making all this happen? Well, when we act with kindness, serotonin and dopamine are released. These neurotransmitters give us feelings of satisfaction and wellbeing and stimulate the pleasure/reward centres in our brains. Endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkiller, also can be released.
The great thing about kindness is that it is often simple and free to do. So, let’s take a look at how effortless acts of kindness can be.
How can we be kind?
While being kind is simple, there are some metaphorical ‘ground rules’ to keep in mind to ensure you and the recipient are getting the most out of a kind act.
1) Try and do something you actually enjoy
If you don’t enjoy the kind thing you’re doing, you’re less likely to receive the happy benefits. On the flip side, the person/people on the receiving end of the ‘kind’ act might see you’re not enjoying it and perceive it as inauthentic.
2) Keep others in mind
At the same time, remember that although kindness for other people can make us feel good, we need to keep top of mind why we’re doing it — which is for their benefit, not ours.
3) Don’t overdo it
If you find you’re expending all your energy on helping others, take a pause. It’s easy sometimes to want to help others when we’re feeling down to avoid thinking about our own problems, but kindness must start with yourself. Also, remember that helping others doesn’t have to cost money or take a lot of time.
Simply asking “How am I going to practice kindness today?” can help you develop healthy daily habits. Doing this can provide a sense of purpose and increase your chances of performing an act of kindness when the opportunity presents itself.
Being kind doesn’t have to involve something big like giving money to charity. There are numerous ways we can get the wellbeing boost kindness can give us:
- Volunteer at a local community organisation.
- Give a compliment to someone.
- Offer help and expertise to someone who is struggling.
- Buy someone a coffee or take them out for lunch.
- Donate to the less fortunate.
- Do a favour for someone you know.
- Open a door for someone.
While these acts of kindness will help fill our lives with joy, it’s vital we don’t forget to be kind to ourselves in the process. It’s often easier to be critical of ourselves than to be kind, but doing so too often can negatively impact our mental wellbeing — even if we’re being kind to others on a regular basis. A helpful way to look at this scenario is to check yourself and ask “Would I talk to my neighbour in the same way I’m taking to myself?” Ultimately, if you would not say it to your good neighbour, do not say it about yourself and, instead, practice some kindness techniques on yourself.
Remember, kindness is infectious. So, if you’re kind to yourself, you’re more likely to be kind to other people and, in turn, they’re more likely to follow your lead. So be that person who creates the trend!
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