“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”- Aesop, the ancient Greek storyteller
Recently, I found myself at the cash register of my local supermarket waiting to pay for my groceries. The guys in front of me seem to have an issue about paying. He was embarrassingly explaining to the cashier he was short of cash by $1.40. Feeling his pain I produced the cash to help him out.
If you know me, that’s not something I normally do. In fact, in the moment I felt slightly embarrassed stepping forward.
He was thankful and the cashier looked at me weirdly. Nonetheless, this random small act of kindness left me feeling energised and happy.
The idea of doing an act of kindness makes a person feel happy is not something that is so new or unique.
This truth has been advocated for centuries by philosophers and religions around the world.
But why do kind deeds make people happy?
And more importantly how can we practice kindness more often?
The benefits of being kind
A lovely book called ‘The Art of Being Kind’ written by Stephen Einhorn, explores the growing belief in society that to get ahead you need to be ruthless and self-focused.
He challenges the viewpoint that kindness towards others need not be a form of altruistic self-sacrifice. He believes kindness is the single most important factor in achieving success and satisfaction in life. He examines a number of ways we can apply kindness on daily basics and still be successful in life.
Studies have found that being kind is linked to increased feelings of happiness, wellbeing, and life satisfaction for people of all ages.
Kindness can jumpstart a wealth of positive benefits:
- If you are kind to others they will likely be kind to you.
- You will avoid conflict and be appreciated.
- You will be more liked and trusted.
- You will feel happier about yourself.
- Kindness can increase your sense of connectivity with others.
- Kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, and improve mood.
- Kindness can decrease blood pressure and cortisol, a stress hormone, which directly impacts stress levels.
- Kindness can become contagious
- Kindness supports our mental health and wellbeing.
Simple ways how to practice kindness
The question that sometimes gets asked is how to practice kindness?
The options are limitless. You don’t need to be Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama to make an impact. No talent or large amounts of cash is needed. The acts can be simple and small in nature.
However, sometimes people go to extreme lengths to find a special cause to dedicate themselves to. In reality you don’t need to look any further than your own home, workplace or community. That special cause could be your spouse, family member or a good friend.
An act of kindness could be as simple as:
- Visiting a friend in need
- Donating your time
- Smiling and acknowledging someone you don’t know
- Being courteous to someone when you are not in the best frame of mind
- holding the door for someone who has their arms full
- letting someone know how much you appreciate them.
The importance of understanding the reason behind the action
Not everyone is necessarily good at all aspects of kindness. It’s really important to try and appreciate the reasons behind the actions. Does it feel natural or is there another agenda?
Are your actions coming from a place of true kindness or are you only doing things because you have to or to satisfy your needs or just striving to be liked?
Evidence suggests that people who reported helping others or volunteering for virtuous reasons (e.g. they feel it is important, they want to help) experienced greater benefits compared to those who helped because they were told to, or because they strived for some form of self-gain.
When kindness gets perceived in a negative way
It’s essential to also remember that kindness also includes the perception of the action by others. Sometimes the intention to be kind or helpful may not always be perceived by the recipient in that way.
There’s always the potential for a negative reaction. This could stem from a number of reasons. Shaun Burns addresses this problematic issue well in her ‘Psychology Today’ article called ‘When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough’.
She highlights 4 conditions that potentially could derail the good intention worth considering:
- The recipient feels the help or gift implies their inferiority or incompetence and that’s hard on their self-esteem or feels insulting.
- The recipient believes they cannot easily repay the giver or reciprocate, triggering burdensome feelings of indebtedness and guilt.
- The recipient experiences the giver’s intervention as an infringement of their personal freedom and autonomy.
- The recipient feels the helping or giving doesn’t arise out of care for them.
Nurturing kindness daily
Kindness is often intertwined with concepts such as empathy, compassion, and altruism. Researchers suggest that kindness is a gesture motivated by genuine, warm feelings for others.
Knowing its benefits how can we nurture kindness on a daily basis?
There are different ways we can cultivate kindness towards ourselves and others.
Here are 3 ideas that research suggests can lead to positive outcomes.
1. The practice of loving-kindness meditation. This approach involves directing unconditional kind attitudes toward oneself and others.
There is evidence to suggest that this technique can lead to a range of positive outcomes, including increased wellbeing, feelings of connection with others and reduced stress.
2. Expressing gratitude. When we express gratitude to someone who has helped us, research shows that this action can make others feel more valued. In turn this motivates them to perform acts of kindness in the future.
Gratitude interventions, such as writing a thank-you note, are considered to be important ways of fostering kindness.
3. Nurture kindness at an early age. Kindness tendencies are inherent in children at a very young age. So, it makes sense to focus on promoting kindness in the young.
School-based kindness interventions, which are often focus on encouraging children to carry out intentional acts of kindness, can help children view things from the perspective of others, improve wellbeing and boost their acceptance among peers.
No better example of this was an experiment conducted in 19 classrooms in Vancouver with 9- to 11-year olds. Students were asked to perform three acts of kindness per week over the course of 4 weeks.
The outcome saw a significant increase in the student’s happiness, life satisfaction and general well-being.
Take away message
It seems clear, then, that kindness can, in turn, inspire kindness.
Overall, there is strong evidence to recommend that kindness is one important way we can help others and promote and protect our mental health and wellbeing.
The effects of kindness may be maximised when it helps us to strengthen our social connections, when it is done voluntarily and for unselfish reasons, and when we feel that we have had a positive effect on others.
What are your views on kindness?
Have you given or received a random act of kindness?
How did it make you feel?