You don’t need to be told that kindness is a good thing.
You know it is.
And you are, sometimes. Kind that is.
When you remember. When you have time. When an opportunity presents itself.
Or perhaps there are certain people in your life to whom you find it easier to be kind. Maybe you remember to be kind to your family, but don’t have a lot to spare for the strangers you meet. Or you think that kindness belongs in your personal life, but see no place for it at work.
I’m passionate about kindness. I love the warmth of the word itself – and the impact I can have on the world with even very small acts of kindness. A smile, a word of thanks – even ensuring I meet the eyes of those around me. They all make a difference. We all feel a little bit more human.
But it doesn’t mean I always remember. Sometimes a bad mood, lack of sleep, or a long work day means I get wrapped up in my own issues, and forget that my passage through the world does matter.
I forget that every time I scowl instead of smile, I look down, instead of into someone’s eyes, or I ignore someone rather than take a moment to make a connection, the world shivers and is a little darker, and sadder, because of it.
So for you, and for me, I’ll share here some of the more unusual benefits of kindness: benefits both for you, and those around you.
I hope it will encourage you – and remind me – to be actively kind to those around you, and to yourself. In as many situations as possible, and to as many people.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.
1. Kindness will open your mind and increase your creativity
In order to be kind to others, you have to think differently.
You move your attention to focus on others’ needs and wants, which helps encourage a broader perspective on the world and to consider the world from another’s point of view.
This change in perspective in the way you view others, as you work to really understand and empathise with them, will help open your mind up and keep a sense of proportion about your own life, as well as helping you to practise creativity.
Gift giving is a great example. It’s far better to give a thoughtful gift than an irrelevant or unwanted expensive one, but in order to be thoughtful, we have to put ourself in the recipient’s place. What do they enjoy doing? What are their hobbies? What do they spend their precious leisure time on?
It’s easy to give the sort of gifts we like to receive, but much harder to give something that the other person wants to receive.
This kind of process helps us to think outside our own narrow range of interests. I’ve often found it a challenge to give a gift to ‘sporty’ friends of mine – it’s found me reading up on running, cycling and hill-walking amongst other things to get them something they’d really like.
Kindness opens our mind as we research and learn about new hobbies and interests, and increases our creativity by stocking our brains with new thoughts, topics and ideas.
Take action: Stretch yourself to put yourself in another’s place. Do something kind for them that you wouldn’t seek out for yourself.
2. Being kind improves your mental health
When we’re compassionate, we look outside our own needs to someone else’s. Compassion is an emotion that we feel in response to the suffering of others, an emotion which drives us to help attempt to relieve that suffering.
We may have a great deal of problems or pain going on in our own lives, but being compassionate shifts our focus outwards. It’s trite, but #firstworldproblem is an excellent reminder to me when I complain about staying in another hotel for work, or that my flight is a bit late, or that the wifi is a bit slow where I’m staying. It reminds me how trivial my problems are in the moment, shifts my perspective, and stops me obsessing about small worries.
When I take action to be kind to those around me, I stop focusing on issues that have taken up space far disproportionate to their reality in my head.
Many studies have shown that when you are kind to others, such as by offering them a helping hand or support, your own happiness increases. We may also experience ‘helper’s high’ – the release of the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter dopamine, which can lead to feelings of calm, warmth and greater self-worth.
Take Action: When you’re next feeling stressed, down, or dissatisfied, do something small for someone else. Consider their problems before your own.
3. Even the smallest act of kindness can make an impact
Do you ever feel weighed down by all the evils in the world? That you just don’t know where to start to create a more benign world?
When you’re kind to someone else, you make the world a tiny bit better. You leave those around you a little bit better off. You increase one (or more, don’t let me hold you back here) person’s happiness by a small increment.
I’m an introvert, and sometimes it can feel a great effort to look into people’s eyes instead of at the floor as I pass them in a corridor, or to say ‘hello, how are you’, to a waitress or barista. But it’s worth it, as it reminds both of us that we’re human. As Amanda Palmer says in her wonderful book ‘The Art of Asking,’ our eye contact tells each other ‘I see you.’
You can make a difference.
You can make the world a better place, one micro-action at a time.
Take Action: Be kind in the most tiny way possible. Pick up a piece of litter, smile at a stranger, hold the door for the person behind you.
4. Kindness can help you lose weight and get more sleep
It’s not all about being kind to others. There are good reasons to be kind to yourself too, and spend time taking care of yourself.
A recent meta-analysis concluded that being kind to yourself, that is, self-compassion, can lead to healthier choices.
The analysis of 15 different studies provided evidence that being positive about yourself, and accepting yourself without judgment ,can lead to an increase in four different health-promoting behaviours: eating better, exercising more, getting more restful sleep, and effective stress management.
The research found that those who showed self-compassion were more likely to make these healthier choices in the way they behaved.
Take Action: Be kind to your physical body. Take a walk, get some fresh air, take a nap. Or join hundreds of others to take the 10-Day Self-Care Basics Challenge.
5. Being a kindness role-model will change others’ perceptions of the world
I’ve recently been watching the Facebook feed of an old schoolmate. I haven’t spoken to him for nearly twenty years, and I don’t remember reading many of his FB posts before, but my attention’s been captured – and inspired – by his unusual posts on #37daysofkindness – his quest to execute a kind act every day in the lead up to his 37th birthday.
His actions have included everything from volunteering at a domestic violence charity to calling the managers of retail stores to give feedback on great service.
The number of likes and shares on his posts suggest that I’ve not been the only one who’s read and been touched by them. I’m no stranger to writing about kindness, but his actions have in part inspired this piece, as each day I think of kindness as his posts flicker past in my news feed.
I’ve been a little bit kinder each day because of it.
The people I’ve supported with small gestures of kindness: the taxi driver I asked about his day; the chef I thanked for his great food; the tired woman with a toddler who I let go in front of me in the line for the bathroom – their days all got a little bit better in turn.
Take Action: Be inspired. Be kind. To yourself and others.
Remember there’s no small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.
Kindness is contagious. Tag! Now pass it on.