Creating a life of wellness involves cultivating a series of supportive habits – with healthy diet, good sleep, and movement and relaxation practices being among the essentials. Another healthy habit that will go a long way to keeping wellness humming? Cultivating kindness. While kindness may have seemed in short supply during the upheaval of the past few years, now is actually the perfect time to reconnect with the idea of sharing kindness that only you can give. Not only will it make others feel better, it will also support your own physical and mental well-being. In other words, everybody wins! How to get into a kindness groove? Practice! As with any skill, the more you do it, the better at it you will become. So, here’s where to start:
Kindness is yours to give – so don’t be stingy with it.
Some people were born with an innate sense of kindness. For others, it’s not their natural default, so they may have to work on developing their skills. If you’re new to the kindness game, one big thing to keep in mind is that kindness is about giving of yourself, no strings attached, and without an expectation of reciprocity. Having a moment when you’re not necessarily feeling it in the kindness department? All the more reason to give a little – you’ll feel the benefits almost immediately.
Kindness is about being aware of your impact on the world.
Kindness isn’t necessarily about being ‘nice’ or friendly, it’s about being aware of others and understanding that your interactions, no matter how inconsequential they may seem, have a profound impact. It’s the old ‘do unto others’ idea and spreading around the good stuff which has a positive ripple effect that extends far beyond your corner of the world. Of course, the opposite is true too – spreading ill-will or meanness has far-reaching, in some cases even global impact – so choose kindness to keep those positive vibes rippling out as far as they can go.
Kindness bestows benefits on your cardiovascular system.
When you are kind to another person with no expectation of anything in return, you experience the “helper’s high”— the pleasure and reward centers of your brain light up, as if you received the good deed. Your levels of serotonin rise and cortisol goes down along with your blood pressure — thanks to the secretion of oxytocin, the love and bonding chemical. The net effect is a major boost to the health of your cardiovascular system. As a bonus, your body makes endorphins, natural painkillers.
Ease anxiety and loneliness – with more kindness.
If you tend toward anxiety, choosing to do a kind act every day has been shown to help. Your mood becomes more positive, your confidence increases, you feel more satisfied in your life. You may also get an energy boost too, a newfound sense of strength and empowerment. Perhaps the biggest benefit of kindness though is that it can shift you from a single-point perspective, where it’s easy to be consumed by personal problems and obstacles, into a more shared experience of life. Those few moments that you feel a kindness effect is a powerful reminder of connectedness – that we’re all in it together and we all benefit from good feelings.
Kindness gets you out of your head, and others out of theirs.
Kindness is a universal language that crosses perceived divides and boundaries, and it’s one of the easiest things to exchange—no backstory, explanation, or complex social dance required. It also becomes your teacher. When you commit an act of kindness, you’re living in the moment. You’re not thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Instead, “right now” fills your awareness and anchors you to the present. Big or small, an act of kindness shows another person that they’ve been seen and affirms that they belong here. It’s an amazingly powerful gesture in a time when loneliness is rampant.
Kindness is infectious in a wonderful way.
Kindness is contagious. Witnessing acts of kindness stimulates feel-good chemistry in others and inspires similar acts. One random act of kindness at a time, we help each other become more present and connected to each other, and healthier, as well. Imagine if everyone embraced kindness every day. We’d have a kindness pandemic – and that would be the start of something beautiful!
Kindness is yours to give – within boundaries.
Keep in mind however, that kindness does have boundaries – it’s not about martyrdom. It doesn’t mean being a doormat or allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. There are limits. It’s important to know when to kindly say no. Whether or not you find it difficult to turn people down, one of the most useful phrases in the English language is “I would love to, but…” It’s a kind, gentle, and firm way to draw boundaries, a line in the sand when that’s needed.
Commit to random daily acts of kindness.
As Nelson Mandela has said, “There can be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return,” to which I might add the notion that kindness is a like a muscle — the more often you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. One way to build up your kindness muscle is to work it out every day. It doesn’t need to be a major effort, just something that makes you smile and someone else feel good. What might a kindness practice look like on an average day? Think little moments; the scale of the act doesn’t matter. For example: let that other driver cut in front of you with a cheery wave, instead of leaning on the horn. Check in on your elderly neighbor from a safe distance and share a few pleasantries. Hold the door open for someone who needs a hand. Look around you – the opportunities will present themselves. One of the beauties of small acts of kindness is that they’re more than just a boon to the recipient — they create a momentary connection between you and the world at large, an instant of intimacy that supports you while bestowing compassion on another. How else to add kindness to your daily routine? Here are some ways to go about it:
- Make someone’s day with an authentic compliment, a simple but powerful act of kindness, humanity and connection.
- If your grocery cart is piled high, invite the person behind you in line to go ahead of you.
- Take a few moments to lend an ear to those in need of being heard. Though you may not be able to ease their pain, if they ask for advice, by all means give it, but tread lightly and be diplomatic in your responses.
- Smile through your mask and make eye contact with those you come across in daily life, when walking the dog, picking up the dry cleaning, grabbing coffee at the corner deli. Your simple act of acknowledgement and appreciation may be the highlight of their day.
- Do something anonymous and unexpected, like paying the toll of the person behind you, giving up your seat on the bus for someone else or buying a hot meal for a person in need.
- Pick up trash when you see it – it’s a simple act of kindness for your community and the environment.
- When dining out or in (depending on pandemic restrictions), add a little extra to your server’s or delivery person’s tip – it’s been a rough year for those in the service industry.
- Remember that your words have impact so always avoid taking frustrations out on others. If you do lose it on occasion, be swift with an earnest apology to keep the waters of kindness (and forgiveness) flowing – in both directions.
- Kindness is unconditional, as in, give it without judging who is ‘worthy’ of it or whether they appear to “deserve” it or not. Everyone is “worthy” of kindness and respect, even if you’re not especially fond of them.
- You’ll be able to share more kindness with others if you also take care to show yourself kindness by forgiving yourself, learning from mistakes, righting wrongs when possible and moving forward.
Ultimately, kindness and empathy go hand-in-hand, so cut people a little slack – just as you would hope others would do for you when things aren’t going your way, and for that matter, even when they are. We all have challenges in our lives, some more than others, so no need to add to anyone’s difficulties with harsh words or mean-spirited behavior. In the words of the ancients, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”