Why ‘doing kind’ can improve your mental and physical healthby
In a time of mass uncertainty and fear, Lianne Weaver explores how being kind to others and yourself benefits your mental wellbeing.
Most of us will have heard the expression ‘be kind’, and we will go through our lives trying to live by that motto. However, kindness is so much more than something that makes you a ‘nice’ person. In fact, kindness has been extensively studied within positive psychology and has been shown to have many benefits to both the recipient and the giver.
After a gruelling year for the accountancy profession, showing a little bit of kindness can go a long way to let others know that they’re not alone.
As a species, human beings are hardwired to work as a community. We do not do very well on our own, so we know that in order for us to thrive, we need to cooperate with our fellow humans. From a young age, we mimic this behaviour and learn the importance of being kind to each other.
However, in a world where we are increasingly under pressure, we can often feel isolated and as a result, kindness can become something we forget to focus upon. However, many studies have found that kindness can benefit us socially, physically and emotionally.
Here are some ways in which kindness has been proven to benefit us:
- Kindness makes us feel good: You may have noticed that when you are kind to someone you get that nice warm feeling. This is not a coincidence – when we are kind our brain releases a chemical called serotonin, our feel good hormone, which helps us not only experience a positive sense of wellbeing but also a sense of contentment.
- Kindness reduces stress and anxiety: There are several studies on the relationship between kindness, stress and anxiety which show that when someone practices kindness, their anxiety levels reduce. This will certainly be connected to the release of positive neurotransmitters like serotonin and oxytocin. One study by Dignity Health in 2019 found that 82% of travellers found travelling stressful, but when they were asked to focus upon helping others they reported that more than half of the travellers surveyed found that helping someone else made them feel happier.
- Kindness keeps us healthy: Research by Christine Carter found that people who volunteer experience lower levels of aches and pains. Carter also states that “People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.”
- Kindness makes us happier: A 2010 Harvard Business School survey of happiness in 136 countries found that people who are altruistic - in this case, people who were generous financially, such as with charitable donations - were happiest overall.
How can we practice kindness?
When people tell you to ‘be kind’ it can feel patronising or belittling, as most of us do not go through our daily lives intentionally trying to be unkind. When we talk about the power of kindness, maybe a better call to action would be ‘do kind’ - if we want to reap the benefits that kindness can bring we need to deliberately perform acts of kindness. According to happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, there are specific ways in which we can do this.
- Quality not quantity: If we do too little, it is unlikely we will notice any long term benefits of kindness. Letting one person out in the traffic once a month is unlikely to bring any rewards. Equally, if we do too much we could end up overburdened, resentful and stressed, which would be counterproductive. Choose an act of kindness that will enable you to reach middle ground. Focus less on the frequency and more upon the meaning of the act itself.
- Mix it up: Vary the acts of kindness you perform to avoid feeling like they are chores or a burden.
- Keep quiet: Do your acts without any expectation of reward or acknowledgement. When we do something nice and wait for positive feedback we can quickly become resentful that they were not appreciated.
- Create a ripple: One of the wonderful things about kindness is that it can create a wonderful ripple effect. Research shows that when we are the recipient of someone’s kindness, we are likely to be more altruistic to others in return.
Want to give it a go?
If you feel inspired to make a difference and bring more deliberate kindness into your life you could try these exercises which have all produced positive results in research studies:
- Find one wholly unexpected kind thing to do and just do it. Notice what happens to your mood.
- Perform a random act of kindness everyday.
- Call a friend you haven’t spoken to for a while and let them know you were thinking of them.
- Donate old clothes, books, items etc.
Practicing kindness will bring you many wonderful benefits, but remember that the most important person that you need to be kind to is yourself. Make sure to put yourself on the list too.
Try incorporating these acts of kindness into your day for yourself:
- Switch off your work computer half an hour earlier.
- Switch off your phone.
- Do your favourite exercise.
- Give yourself permission to do nothing.
- Connect with a person who makes you feel good.
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Lianne Weaver is the Managing Director of Beam Development & Training Ltd, which delivers unique wellbeing, happiness, personal development and resilience training to companies and individuals both in the classroom and online. She works with government organisations, banks, law firms as well as SME’s. Lianne is also a therapist, working...