“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory”.

Dr Seuss

What do you think of when you hear the word kindness? 

 

Maybe you remember a time when someone’s words or actions made your day, or even your week, brighter?  We all know that being on the receiving end of kindness feels good, but did you know there are many other benefits to practising kindness?

Leading happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky’s work has shown that people who do kind things for others experience greater psychological flourishing, including more positive emotions, meaning kindness doesn’t just help other people, it can drastically improve your life too.  

 

The benefits of kindness

Quite simply, it feels good to do good.  You might do something as simple as holding the door for someone, or give your last teabag to the colleague who came in cold and wet from break duty, or it might be a more substantial commitment, like volunteering, whatever you do, the outcome is the same: that lovely warm feeling.  By being kind to people we are connecting with them and making them feel seen. Simple acts of kindness help to make the world feel a bit less impersonal, maybe a bit smaller and a bit more manageable, even if only for a few moments.    

Kindness also has health benefits.  Doing something kind triggers the release of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood stability) and oxytocin (a hormone that helps you to feel connected to people) meaning you feel more calm and less isolated.  A study by Dartmouth College, found that people who were regularly kind had 23% less cortisol (colloquially known as the stress hormone) in their bodies compared to the average population.  This illustrates how kindness can help to minimise the impact of stress on your body, making you more resilient to the difficult situations and emotions we sometimes face in our job.  

Studies have also shown that being kind makes you more energetic, it increases your sense of self-worth, and can reduce the symptoms of migraine and chronic pain. So that warm feeling you get from a smile or a word of thanks – that’s only the tip of the kindness iceberg.      

 

Three ways you can harness the power of kindness

1. Perform random acts of kindness

Spontaneous kindness promotes gratitude.  If you are kind to someone because you sense their need, maybe it’s the need to have their lesson covered or have someone smile at them when they’re sharing a tough message in a staff meeting, the fact that you have been aware of another person’s need for kindness, heightens your sense of your own good fortune.  Your random act of kindness promotes empathy and compassion, which in turn can lead to a sense of interconnectedness with others.  

2. Volunteer

A study of 1,100 adults aged between 51 to 91 found those who volunteered for an average of four hours per week were 40% less likely to have developed hypertension than non-volunteers.  A 2013 study tracked high school students who volunteered for one hour a week for 10 weeks. At the end of the 10 weeks, the students had lower levels of inflammation and cholesterol and a lower body mass index than at the beginning of the study.    

3. Practice mindfulness

Positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson found that adults who practised a loving-kindness meditation for seven weeks reported more experience of positive emotions, like love, joy and hope, which in turn helped them to feel more satisfied with life.  You can try it here.  Another study from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, found that people who completed an eight week meditation course were far more likely to help someone in need than someone who had been placed on the waiting list for the same course.  

 

Don’t forget to be kind to yourself

In Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Kristin Neff, one of the best known researchers in this area, writes: “Compassion involves recognising our shared human condition, flawed and fragile as it is.” Her work has identified that it is critical for teachers to exercise self-care to maintain healthy levels of empathy.  If we are not taking care of ourselves, we are less able to provide empathic care to others.  

Plan to incorporate self kindness into your day by writing a list of small things that you really look forward to.   Maybe it’s your first cup of coffee? A piece (or two!) of chocolate? A glass of wine? A bunch of flowers? Going for a run? Meditating?  20 minutes of uninterrupted reading? Make a list and set yourself the task of rewarding yourself everyday with something from that list. You might be recognising the fact that you have completed a difficult task or maybe just acknowledging your efforts, either way, you deserve it.        

And remember to speak kindly to yourself.  Many of us speak to ourselves much more harshly than we would to a friend.  Don’t beat yourself up over little things and think carefully about the tone and word choices of your internal monologue.  It’s easy to resort to self criticism, especially when we are tired or stressed, but the better approach is to be kind to yourself and treat yourself with the patience and tolerance you would extend to someone you care about.  This will help you to feel better not only about the situation, but about yourself as well.    

 

Why not try your own kindness experiment?  

This week, if you find yourself feeling frustrated, angry, exhausted or sad, make a point of being kind to another person.

  •         Did it help you to change your outlook on work?
  •         Do you feel better?
  •         Let me know your results! 

 

Looking for more inspiration? 

This TED Talk by Stefan Klein, Survival of the Nicest: Why Sharing Pays Off, highlights a study that shows people are happier when they do good things for others.

 

 

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”  

Aesop

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