“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” Plato
Kindness is expressed in a myriad of small, everyday ways, such as allowing someone to go ahead of you in line, doing chores for other people, running an errand for a friend, or signaling another driver to go ahead of you in traffic. It is not about being “nice” in some sentimental or superficial way. True kindness comes from a place that is genuine. It is done to be of service to others, out of genuine care and concern. Authentic kindness carries no expectation of receiving anything in return.
When you are kind to someone, you feel good. Also, each act of kindness tends to lead others to acts of kindness, thus creating an incredible upward spiral of positive emotions. Research suggests that kindness is indeed contagious. An individual act of kindness spreads through social networks by three degrees of separation, from person to person to person to person (Fowler & Christaks, 2010). Kindness releases a hormone known as oxytocin which produces a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels and in turn reduces blood pressure (Kok, et al., 2013). The bottom line is that practicing acts of kindness benefits your heart, reduces anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and helps you to be a happier person.
Here are a few ideas to get you started — and they won’t cost you time or money to spread a little kindness:
Be intentionally kind. Throughout the day, intentionally bring kindness into your actions, your speech, and most of all, your thoughts. Either silently or verbally wishing for the well-being of others has been shown to improve your ability to feel empathy, to increase your social connectedness, and improve your ratio of positive to negative emotions.
Run mini-movies in your head. Encourage themes of kindness in your mind by running mini-movies of times when others were kind to you or when you showed kindness toward others. This simple process will help wire your brain for kindness and calmness.
Assume innocence. Assume no ill-will in others’ intentions and bring a sense of kindness to your interpretation of other people’s actions.
Start with YOU! Be kind to the parts of you that are hesitant or afraid. Be kind to aspects of yourself that you wish were different, whether these parts have to do with the way you look, the things you want, or the emotions you feel. Be kind to what is human in you, in the same way you practice kindness towards the humanity of others.
Fowler, James H; Christakis, Nicholas A. Cooperative behavior cascades in human social networks”. PNAS Vol 107 No 12. 2010.
Kok, Bethany E, Coffey, Kimberly A, Cohn, Michael A., Catalino, Lahnna I., Vacharkulksemsuk, Tanya, Algoe, Sara B., Brantley, Mary and Fredrickson, Barbara (2013). How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connections Account for the Upward Spiral Between Positive Emotions and Vagal Tone” Psychological Science, 24(7), 1123–1132.