No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. Aesop
Kindness can assist others and lift your own spirits. Not only does it feel good, there is growing evidence that being kind can help your mental and physical wellbeing. This blog will explore the connection between kindness and wellbeing, and will also give you some ideas about bringing more kindness into your life.
Several studies have supported this connection:
1. A study at Harvard University in the United States involving showing students a film about Mother Teresa and then checking their immunoglobulin levels (integral in the immune response), found elevated levels.
2. Another study at Harvard found those students who volunteered their time or money were 42 per cent more likely to describe themselves as happy.
3. Across the Atlantic at the University of Cambridge, researchers found that when students saw someone helping another person, it caused them to want to go out and do something for someone else.
Why does kindness help our wellbeing? We know that being kind results in the production of the hormone oxytocin. This helps us feel relaxed and happy. Oxytocin is good for our physical health too, as it lowers blood pressure. Engaging in random acts of kindness can often lead to you feeling more connected with others and more empathic. As social creatures, this is important. Kindness is associated with feeling more positive too.
Researcher Barbara Frederickson has done a lot of work in the area of positivity. She describes how a ‘loving-kindness meditation’, based on ancient Buddhist mind-training practices, fosters positive emotions (Frederickson, To remind yourself of the value of loving-kindness during the day, recite this ancient Tibbetan Buddhist poem on loving-kindness to yourself- ‘May I be filled with loving-kindness May I be well May I be peaceful and at ease May I be happy’. In the loving-kindness meditation you train your emotion towards warm and compassionate feelings in an open-hearted way. You direct these feelings to yourself and then to an ever-widening circle of others.
When you think of kind and compassionate people, who comes to mind? Perhaps someone you know or have worked with? Or maybe Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama? The Buddha said we should ‘have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering’. Compassion is empathy for the suffering of others, so to have compassion for others you must first notice their suffering and then feel warmth or caring and a desire to help in some way. Compassion means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they make mistakes or fail, rather than judging them harshly. Acceptance and being non-judgmental are important aspects of compassion (Howell, 2013).
Self-compassion is a form of kindness. It means you are able to be kind and understanding towards yourself when faced with your personal failings, instead of criticising and judging yourself harshly. Some of the unexpected outcomes of acting with kindness can be an increased sense of peace, love and trust (Howell & Murphy, 2011). One of the traps in life is comparison with others. We are hardwired to compare as part of our tools for survival. If we come across an individual who looks threatening, then comparison is important. However, much of the time we have no need to compare, and too frequent comparison leads to suffering.
How to bring more kindness into everyday life!
1. Say thank you to others.
2. Give a compliment.
3. Donate some time or money to a good cause.
4. Help a friend or family member.
5. Donate blood.
6. Lend a hand to someone in need.
7. Buy someone a cuppa.
8. Help a work colleague out.
9. Be compassionate to yourself.
10. Practice the loving-kindness meditation (Howell, 2013; based on Frederickson, 2009).
“Make yourself comfortable and let your eyes close. Focus your attention on the breath and relax. Focus too on the region of your heart. Once grounded in the feeling of your own heart, reflect on a person for whom you feel warm, tender and compassionate feelings. This could be a child, partner or even a pet. Visualise or imagine yourself being with this loved one and notice how you feel. Extend loving-kindness to them by saying, ‘may you be well, may you be at ease, may you be happy and at peace.’
Hold onto the warm and compassionate feelings. And now extend the warm feeling to yourself. Cherish yourself as you do others. Allow your heart to radiate with love. When you are ready, radiate your warm and compassionate feelings to others, first to a person you know well, then gradually call to mind others with whom you have connections. ultimately you can extend loving-kindness to all if you choose. When you are ready come back to the room, opening your eyes. Notice and hold onto your positive feelings”.
• Frederickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research to Release your Inner Optimist and Thrive. One World Publications. London.
• Howell, C. (2013). Intuition Unlock the Power. Exisle, NSW.
• Howell, C. and Murphy, M. (2011). Release Your Worries A guide to letting go of stress and anxiety. Exisle, NSW.