Positive psychology

The Importance of Kindness

Kindness ... there’s just too little of it these days. Yet, despite the disparaging, offensive name-calling and negativity we are often subjected to by those in power, one does not have to look too far, if you are willing to do a little digging, to find stories of kindness on social media and the news.

Recently, I attended a Memorial Service for a friend who passed away after a prolonged illness. Among those who spoke of their relationship with her, “kindness” was the characteristic used to describe her behavior. Indeed, she was one of the kindest people that I have known. Because I could not get this topic off of my mind, I knew then that this was the subject I wanted to explore and write about.

What is kindness and how can it be recognized and practiced?

Kindness is an interpersonal skill that includes generosity, consideration, warmth, caring and concern for another human being. It is a cognitive (thinking), behavioral (what we do) process that benefits not only other individuals, but also ourselves.

Aristotle defined kindness as “helpfulness toward someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for the person helped.”

Bo Lozoff, writer and motivational speaker and Founder of the Human Kindness Foundation described kindness this way: “In the midst of global crises such as pollution, wars and famine, kindness may be too easily dismissed as a ‘soft’ issue, or a luxury to be addressed after the urgent problems are solved. But kindness is the greatest need in all those areas – kindness toward the environment, toward other nations, toward the needs of people who are suffering. Until we reflect basic kindness in everything we do, our political gestures will be fleeting and fragile.”

The Dalai Lama wrote: “Kindness and a good heart are the foundation for success in this life, progress on the spiritual path, and the fulfillment of our aspirations. Our need for them is not limited to any specific time, place, society, or culture.”

Brian Tracy, Motivational Speaker, described the importance of kindness: “In life you can never be too kind or too fair; everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load. When you go through your day expressing kindness and courtesy to all you meet, you leave behind a feeling of warmth and good cheer, and you help alleviate the burdens everyone is struggling with.”

In February, 2017 researchers at Kindness.org asked their followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram what they considered kindness to be. The responses to their interpretation of kindness were varied. Some described it as showing respect, forgiving, or “doing the right thing.” Others saw it as “being natural” and “simple.”

Their data revealed that 76% of kind acts involved strangers; 27% discussed empathy as a kind act—listening to others to understand their feelings; 20% involved smiling; 13% cited assistance to others to solve a problem or achieve a goal; 11% saw giving as an important part of kindness.

Kindness benefits both the giver and the recipient. Research has shown that kindness makes you happy and happiness makes you kinder. Several hormones, namely oxytocin (the same brain chemical that surges when you hug your child or dog) and vasopressin, are released into the brain when people perform kind acts—which temporarily lowers one’s blood pressure. It is apparent that the benefits of performing kind acts are both psychological and physiological.

What occurs is a “positive feedback loop” between kindness and happiness so that one encourages the other. If performing a kind act makes you happier, then the likelihood is that you would perform another kind deed.

Kindness takes no more effort than being unkind. So why don’t we strive to be positive by doing a kind deed, or saying a kind word?

Practicing kindness is not difficult. It does, however, require being tuned in to one’s environment and opening one’s eyes to notice when others are in need. Do you notice when someone needs a door opened, assistance carrying a heavy load, or a helping hand to negotiate steep stairs or walkways?

Practicing kindness also means that one who practices this virtue must be willing to absorb the cost of being kind, such as their time, effort or resources. Helping someone, even for just a few moments, may delay one’s departure resulting in being late for an appointment, to an alteration in one’s daily schedule, or even a small financial outlay.

In an effort to begin a revolution of kindness, you will find below a list of easy, affordable ways to perform an act of kindness. From Katy McColl’s “50 Simple Acts of Kindness,” I have included my favorites:

1. Hang a sign on a bulletin board that says, “Take What You Need” with tear-off tabs at the bottom labeled “Love,” “Hope,” “Faith,” “Courage.”

2. Leave your neighbors a note that tells them how much joy you find in admiring their garden.

3. Give your unused grocery coupons to the customer behind you in line.

4. Sing an employee’s praises to a manager; recognition goes a long way.

5. Lay your neighbor’s newspaper at their front door along with a plate of muffins.

6. Offer your mail carrier a glass of iced tea.

7. On trash day, wheel your neighbor’s can out to the curb.

8. Send “Thinking of You” cards to elderly friends in assisted living or nursing homes.

9. Ask others—sincerely—what you can do to help.

10. Resolve to refrain from negative self-talk (you deserve your kindness, too!)

I, for one, have decided that I will make every effort to perform at least one kind act every day. Want to join me in this effort? Contact Dr. Thompson at caroltmcc@comcast.net