Kindness can be loud and proud, an exuberant gesture of extreme generosity that wows a crowd. Or quiet and gentle, an unseen act melting the hearts of a solitary someone touched by tenderness.
Sometimes mistaken for a weakness or condemned as an empty gesture, kindness is no easy option. In the face of provocation it’s hard to resist the fleeting sense of satisfaction that can come from lashing out in retaliation and spite. Yet the stakes are high as we risk damaging our connection to others and scarring our very souls.
Kindness can demand extraordinary courage and a strong resolve. But there’s a growing body of evidence suggesting that big or small, acts of kindness have incredible power that can transform our lives, our relationships and our world.
Raising our levels of health.
Being kind to others feels good, for us and for them. Lifting both our moods, a simple act of kindness can turn around a bad day, relieve stress and worry and generally help us feel less anxious.
But as well as raising our emotional health, kindness also has huge benefits for our physical health. Giving or receiving kindness, leads to higher levels of oxytocin in our bodies. Releasing nitric oxide that expands our blood vessels, this helps to lower blood pressure and inflammation in the cardiovascular system, protecting our hearts from degeneration and disease.
Kindness strengthens our immune systems, and slows down the effects of ageing. It even has the power to lessen the impact of aches and pains. And when we feel healthier, we’re much better equipped to face our days with a positive outlook.
Helping us to think clearer.
Kindness has a calming influence on our bodies, our minds and our interactions. Extending the benefit of doubt to ourselves and to others, kindness can help us avoid jumping to conclusions and being hijacked by negative emotions.
Recognising that how we relate to others largely reflects how we’re thinking and feeling about ourselves, we can respond more sensitively to what once we might’ve seen as personal attacks. We can never know the extent of another’s personal struggles, the preoccupations that overwhelm them or what intentions we’ve misjudged. And neither can we expect those around us to be fully aware of our own challenges. When we’re able to meet hostility and aggression with a reasonable level of doubt we’re calmer and more understanding, less consumed by the need to defend or justify ourselves, or refute their every word.
Validating and accepting the feelings of others doesn’t mean we condone their behaviour or even the sentiments they express, but it can help to defuse a difficult situation and prevent conflicts from escalating. Once heard we feel lighter, freer and more willing to listen to others. Kindness enables us to think more clearly, working together to reach a place where we can survey any damage, repair and rebuild our relationships.
Healing deep emotional wounds.
As kindness can defuse conflict and tension in the present it also has the power to heal the traumas of our past. Many of us have a deep well of emotional wounds we’ve collected throughout our lives. While these lay dormant, seemingly forgotten and buried most of the time, any hint of aggression or injustice can wake them.
Replaying the memories of past hurts in our mind, swept along in a narrative that casts us as victims and triggers our defences can distort our observation and skew our assessment about what’s happening now. Drawing unfair and inaccurate conclusions, we find it hard to listen and think clearly. Stuck in a cycle of regret, shame and guilt, we’re at a high risk of acting in ways we might live to regret. Kindness can release us from this negative cycle, protect us from momentary lapses of reason and heal our feelings of bitterness and rage.
Building our kindness muscles can strengthen our resolve and build our resilience, liberating us from the tyranny of taking things too personally. Assuming responsibility for our emotions whilst recognising the emotional baggage of others is not our burden to bear can help us retrain our thought patterns and hone our skills of intentionally responding rather than impulsively reacting to what happens around us.
Building strong connections and communities.
Studies have shown that when given a history of kind deeds alongside pictures of random strangers we find them more attractive. Though their faces remain the same, our perception of their beauty rises in direct correlation to how kind we believe them to be. Driven to ensure the safety of the next generation, we’re drawn to others we believe will be kind to us and our children.
We want to associate with kind people, not just for them to take care of us but because it feels so good to be around them. Moral elevation, ‘…a warm, uplifting feeling…’ inspires hope and motivates us to be kinder too. Witnessing kindness helps us feel safe, supported and confident, more willing to help others and trust them to help us. Kindness encourages us to bond with those around us, building strong relationships, stable communities and solid foundations for co-operation, contribution and connection.
We feel better about ourselves and those around us, increasing the likelihood that we’ll open up to others, and in turn encouraging them to be more vulnerable with us. Our understanding and compassion for others grows as we begin to learn more about each other, our common struggles and similarities outweighing any perceived differences.
Making the world a safer place.
Born with a desire to connect with others, we want to be loved and cared for, and to extend that to others around us. Yet, while we all possess innate levels of kindness and compassion, a nurturing environment in childhood ensures they have the best chance to grow. Children learn what they live, and given love and respect they’ll be better placed to share that with others. Surrounding our children with kindness and forging strong relationships embodied with trust and hope we’re leaving a legacy for future generations to enjoy.
Kindness challenges the pessimism of the cynic, overwhelming doubt and distrust and restoring our faith in humanity. Feeling closely connected to our families and our communities keeps us grounded and less likely to panic. Feelings of loneliness, suspicion and fear subside and a more hopeful and positive view of the future emerges.
Kindness is uniquely contagious. Whether directly involved in an exchange of kindness or witness to it, we’re forever changed, compelled to pass it on. The ripple effect of kindness can be far-reaching and long-lasting, expanding exponentially and impacting others in ways we can’t imagine. Even for those seemingly unmoved by kindness in the moment, seeds will be sown, and those seeds will grow as each subsequent exposure to kindness has deeper and more profound effects.
Kindness creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, a chain reaction that shifts our world view and elevates our perception of human nature. The ultimate superpower.
May the force of kindness be with you. Always x