“I’ve been searching for ways to heal myself, and I’ve found that kindness is the best way.” – Lady Gaga
If kindness was condensed into pill form and sold at the chemist’s, it would be flying off the shelves and hailed as the next wonder drug, up there in demand with the bottles of exercise and blister packs of gratitude, transforming the nation’s mental health. But kindness isn’t available in drug form, it’s so much easier than that – it’s within all of us all of the time, available whenever we want it, and it’s free!
Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. Affection, gentleness, warmth, concern and care are all words that are associated with kindness. The benefits of being kind are huge, even greater for the giver than the receiver. Kindness is a win-win, the love spreads both ways!
Some people practise kindness habitually: the shop assistant who always smiles and says a few warm words to every customer; the bus driver who enthusiastically greets every passenger; the teacher who shows kindness and concern to every pupil. It’s highly likely that these people are infinitely happier than those who show disinterest or who snap and criticise. We are biologically wired to be kind and we can further develop this trait with practice and repetition. Sometimes, however, due to outside influences and the stress of our day-to-day lives, we can lose this inherent ability. Losing our ability to be kind is very costly to our mental health.
“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” – Bob Kerrey
Here are just a few of the many ways in which kindness is so good for our health and well-being:
Positive relationships – Kindness and empathy help us to form more positive relationships with friends, family and even complete strangers – this has profound benefits. A strong network of family and friends has long been known to be beneficial to both mental and physical health. There is also a very strong link between longevity and close family and friendship networks. We are generally sociable creatures, and being kind and empathetic are crucial traits for forming meaningful and lasting social bonds.
Feel-good hormones – When we carry out an act of kindness, it will generally make us feel better. This is because being kind, just like eating chocolate, boosts serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain which is responsible for feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Altruism also encourages the release of endorphins, hormones often associated with exercise – these hormones flood the body with feel-good sensations, or what is sometimes referred to as ‘helper’s-high’.
Reduced anxiety – Experienced by most of us some of the time, and many of us much of the time, anxiety is a common human experience that causes much suffering. Douglas Gentile, a professor of psychology at Iowa University said that “…offering kindness to others in the world reduces anxiety and increases happiness and feelings of social connection.” It seems that practising kindness is especially useful in overcoming social anxiety, since it helps counter negative social expectations by enabling socially anxious people to create more positive perceptions. There are various different ways to reduce anxiety such as meditation, exercise and prescription medication, but being nice to other people can be one of the easiest and most effective ways of managing anxiety. Even small acts of kindness, such as smiling at a stranger, can have a very positive impact on our sense of well-being.
Improved heart health – Kindness encourages the release of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin in turn causes the release of nitric acid which leads to the dilation of blood vessels lowering blood pressure. Oxytocin therefore protects the heart and is also known to reduce chronic inflammation, which is linked to many common illnesses.
Reduced stress and depression – When we demonstrate acts of kindness towards others, volunteer, offer our help and our time or listen to others’ problems, we can take a break from our own issues for a while and focus on others. This can give us a break from too much focus on ourselves and also put our own problems and stresses into a more realistic perspective. The old saying ‘there’s always someone worse off than you’ is very true and can, for some, provide a very helpful perspective.
True and genuine kindness is beneficial to both the giver and receiver. In relation to friends and family members with no specific needs or vulnerabilities, it is possible to give too much, particularly if your acts of kindness are not reciprocated – there should normally be a balance. There might be occasions when you feel you’re giving too much and getting nothing in return – relationships like this can become toxic and be damaging to both parties. If a ‘friend’ treats you like this, you might feel drained in their presence and come to resent their requests for help. Survivors of domestic abuse have often been conditioned to do too much and to give too much with no expectation of reciprocation. This is sometimes born out of conditioning caused by the abuse. This self-sacrifice may also have its roots in low self-esteem and a desperate need to please, which is common following an abusive relationship. The real test is that genuine and healthy kindness will feel good to the giver of this kindness. If you feel resentment for what you’re giving, perhaps you shouldn’t be giving it.
Although we’ve discussed kindness to others, showing kindness and compassion to ourselves will make us more able to be compassionate towards others. When you’re in a plane and the oxygen masks fall, you need to sort out your own mask before helping others with theirs. Kindness works in the same way.
In our current circumstances of living with a global viral pandemic, behaving in a kind and compassionate manner has never been more crucial. We’re witnessing countless selfless and compassionate acts – the people who are shopping for their neighbours, volunteering for the NHS, delivering food parcels, walking an elderly person’s dog. These unprecedented circumstances have brought people together in a way that normal life might not have done. Kindness brings about social cohesion and a feeling of community, it makes us feel connected and reinforces our feelings of belonging. Sometimes good comes from challenging circumstances, and if these recent circumstances have encouraged a spirit of kindness, let’s hope that these kind acts continue long after we’ve overcome coronavirus, for everyone’s sake.
Broxtowe Women’s Project are still supporting those affected by domestic abuse in Nottinghamshire. If you are experiencing domestic abuse or are affected by past domestic abuse, we are here to help. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our mobile support line – 07914 634190.