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Kindness is a Superpower
Sarah Ariss is an experienced QCH Practitioner, practising in Hertfordshire and online.
She is also Training Manager at The Quest Institute. Sarah has a particular interest in working with clients who are experiencing Anxiety.
World Kindness Day – 13th November 2021
Kindness is a Superpower…
November 13th is World Kindness Day. You might shrug your shoulders to read that… another ‘Day’ for something ridiculous… like World Hamster Day or World Tightrope Walking Day. However, research has shown that kindness really is a superpower and, as Goethe said, “Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together.”
So, what do we mean by kindness? Why is it so important and how does it bind us together as a society? How can we use it in our own lives in a way that is helpful, healing and positive? And what happens to us when we do exactly that?
The definition of kindness is,” The quality of being generous, helpful and caring about other people, or an act showing this quality.” We all instinctively recognise kindness in its many forms – it’s not something that we need to be taught or have explained to us.
Kindness makes us feel good – both when we are kind to others and when we receive kindness. It also feels good to witness kindness. It’s that feeling that makes the difference and the feeling is caused by the release of hormones – hormones such as serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine which tell us that we are safe, we are cared for and we can relax and thrive.
The Physical Benefits of Kindness
So, we know that kindness feels nice because of the release of those hormones, but why? What happens when someone is kind to us or we are kind to them? Well, research has shown that several important things happen to us physiologically because of those hormones:
- Our blood pressure can reduce
- Levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) can reduce
- Our immune system can strengthen
- Kindness can boost happiness
- Our cardiovascular system is protected
- We are less prone to depression
Physically, we feel connected, protected and respected by the people around us, our tribe, and when that happens, we are safe. When we are safe, we can flourish and thrive, rather than just exist and survive. And that, is what life is all about.
Kindness – a Good Pandemic
Kindness is contagious – not the Covid type of contagion, but a good type. You may have witnessed it yourself. For example… that glow you get when someone lets you out at a junction…or gives you their car park ticket for free… you’re more likely to slow down when you see someone else at a junction or look around for someone to give your unused ticket to next time.
In a recent study, it was reported that a young man in the US donated a kidney in an incredible act of kindness. His action created a ‘ripple’ effect where family members of kidney recipients came forward and donated their kidneys too, to complete strangers. In all, ten people received life saving kidney donations because of the ‘domino effect’ of that one person being kind.
Now, I do realise that this example is a little extreme and I don’t recommend everyone rushing out to donate body parts on World Kindness Day… however, it is worth considering the difference we could all make by being kind in other ways.
Random Acts of Kindness
One of the ideas I share with clients is the thought of being a ‘Pollyanna’. By this I mean taking time to keep an eye out for a particular person. This might mean choosing your mum, or a colleague and doing small, kind things for them. These kindnesses can be anything from making a cup of tea to holding the lift, from leaving an encouraging note in their lunch box to doing the washing up.
What matters is that care, that generosity of spirit. It will make the other person feel good and it will also make you feel good.
These acts show the other person that they matter, their needs are seen, they are heard. We all need this. We need to feel heard. We need to feel part of the tribe because that belonging means that we are safe. And when we are safe… the world is our oyster, we can relax and flourish.
Self-Care and Compassion
Kindness is not just about other people either. Being kind to ourselves really matters. So often I hear people telling me that they’re ‘pathetic’ or ‘stupid’ or ‘not good enough’. Stop!! I want to shout… but shouting would not be kind so, instead, I gently suggest a little self-compassion.
We wouldn’t dream of berating our friends or our children in the way we do ourselves. Words are very powerful and, as an experiment, I would like you to stop for a moment and speak to yourself.
First, be mean… how does it feel when you tell yourself that you are stupid or ugly or useless or pathetic? Be with that feeling for a moment. Probably not a nice feeling… I’m sorry about that.
So now, be kind. Speak to yourself with compassion. Tell yourself that it’s going to be ok, you are doing your best and that’s good enough, you are good enough, you are loved. Be with that feeling for a moment…or longer. It’s better isn’t it? It might make you feel a little emotional, but that’s ok. And, as time goes on, you will grow to be your own Pollyanna, your own best support.
By being kind to ourselves we create the release of those ‘good’ hormones and, again, feel safer, more connected, better emotionally regulated.
Imagine… a Whole World of Kindness
Just imagine…if we all began being kind… to ourselves, to each other…
How different would each day feel if we knew that people were going to be kind to us and that we could be accepted for who we were? How different would each day feel if we set out to be kind to those around us?
Now, of course, we have no control over the actions of others, but we can choose how we behave, how we respond. We can choose to be kind to those around us. To the stressed mum with a crying baby – a smile and an encouraging word can make a world of difference. To an elderly man struggling with his money purse at the checkout – patience and a reassuring nod or the offer to help can be the difference that makes the difference. Small acts, bearing in mind that none of us know what the other is going through, can make or break a day.
As the Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
So, why limit kindness to World Kindness Day? Be generous with your kindness – after all it is one of the very few things in this world that costs absolutely nothing. Kindness is free. Why not make every day a day of kindness? Let’s all bathe in the glow of it… No, really. As John Lennon said……imagine.
The Science of Kindness
With thanks to Dr David R Hamilton PHD, Mayo Clinic Health System and The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.