We all know the old saying: treat others the way you’d want them to treat you (or words to that effect).
Recent studies have shown that, from early childhood, we're hard-wired to be kind. However, the need for kindness can get pushed to one side due to external influences and the stress of our day-to-day lives.
Kindness and empathy help us bond and connect with other people and create more positive relationships with those around us, whether they're close to us or strangers. What’s more, kindness can improve our emotional and physical health.
In this article, we list just some ways being kind to others can impact your well-being and include some ideas and suggestions to inspire you to invite more kindness into your everyday life.
Why it’s sometimes better to be kind than to be right
Kindness is like snow- It beautifies everything it covers.” – Kahlil Gibran
We often seem to live in an unkind world. In our fast-paced lives, as we struggle to keep up and sometimes survive, there doesn't seem to be time to notice what's happening with the people around us and lend a hand when needed.
It's challenging to take the time to be kind when we're faced with the aggressive or thoughtless behavior of others – especially when we haven’t done anything to provoke it.
But responding with kindness (even just kind thoughts) in difficult situations isn’t a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it springs from the understanding of a simple truth. And that is - we all struggle.
That rude bank clerk, that aggressive driver who cut us up in traffic, the colleague who rebukes us in front of others - we just can't know what they are going through. Family troubles, financial worries, a devastating loss, a bad migraine, or a nameless dread. All we see is how they act towards us.
So instead of returning hostility with hostility, rather than lashing out in response, keep in mind that we all struggle, and at that moment, the other person is finding the struggle harder than you.
Author Marianne Williamson expresses it perfectly: ‘The world changes when we change. The world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world.’
Any act of kindness and generosity on your part no matter how small or seemingly insignificant can transform that person's day. And yours.
Why it’s better to give than to receive
There’s no doubt that we all appreciate it when someone shows us kindness and generosity. For example, a stranger offering to help us pick up something we've dropped, or lifting a heavy suitcase onto a luggage rack for us. Or someone close to us understanding when we’re in a tight corner and providing the assistance we need without being asked.
As well as the practical value of these acts, such moments help us feel valued and deepen our sense of connection to others.
It's worth considering just who it is that benefits most from acts of kindness? It's natural to imagine that when we're kind to someone, they are the ones who benefit from our thoughtfulness and generosity. But there's now a wealth of research proving that that’s far from the whole story.
And although it makes sense to be kind to yourself, showing kindness to others offers the most powerful benefits for the giver.
For example, in one study, participants were given a small sum of money and instructed to spend it on themselves or others before the end of the day, in whatever way they chose. Before receiving the cash, the participants’ happiness levels were measured, and then again when the task was complete. Results showed that those who had spent the money on others were happier than those who used it for their own needs.
What is the Ripple Effect?
A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” – Amelia Earhart
The consequences of acts of kindness spread far beyond the giver and the receiver. Research also confirms that acts of kindness ripple out because both parties enjoy the effects, and this incentivizes them to continue being kind.
For example, a study quoted in Psychology Today demonstrates how goodwill is contagious, and that kind acts create a domino effect. One person’s generosity will impact three people. Those three people will each pay forward the kind act to three others, benefiting nine in all. Those nine continue multiplying the kindness, and so on.
What are the Benefits of Being Kind?
I’ve been searching for ways to heal myself, and I’ve found that kindness is the best way.” – Lady Gaga
Kindness has a powerful impact on our emotional health and resilience.
Firstly, it releases hormones that make us feel good. Performing kind acts for others stimulates serotonin, the neurotransmitter that boosts feelings of well-being and satisfaction.
Even watching someone help another person can produce oxytocin (the ‘love hormone’) and benefits us in several ways: it helps lower blood pressure, improves overall heart health, and increases our self-esteem and optimism.
Being kind gives all our endorphin hormones a significant boost, producing what is sometimes referred to as a 'helper's high'.
Another effect of practicing kindness is that it can help lower anxiety. For example, a four-week study into happiness from the University of British Columbia found that subjects who performed kind acts displayed major increases in their positive emotions such as energy, cheerfulness, optimism and self-esteem.
The oxytocin that’s released with acts of kindness doesn't only make you feel happier. It causes nitric oxide to be released, which in turn expands blood vessels and reduces blood pressure.
That oxytocin surge also reduces free radical production in our body, slowing the aging process and it lowers levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that’s associated with accelerated aging, and anxiety and burnout.
In addition, when we bond with another through a positive experience such as friendship or kindness, the emotions we feel can boost our immune system.
Recently, researchers have discovered links between kindness and the vagus nerve, which regulates heart rate and helps control inflammation levels in the body.
One study into the Tibetan Buddhist's Metta or 'Loving Kindness' meditation demonstrated that kindness and compassion reduce inflammation, probably due to its effect on the vagus nerve.
So although it's always been instinctively felt that being kind was better for us than being mean, the connection between acts of kindness and physical and emotional well-being is increasingly being understood.
Practicing Everyday Kindness
We all read about those people who devote their lives to raising money for charity or performing heroic acts to save others but feel we can’t do the same.
However, we can also make a difference to people by practicing small acts of kindness in everyday life. In a 2021 online survey of 60,000 people carried out by the BBC (the largest ever undertaken on the subject), the most commonly reported kindness was helping people when they asked, and next came doing favours for friends.
But there are a myriad of ways you can choose to show kindness, even towards people you don't know.
- Being kind to busy and stressed out customer service workers and thanking them for helping you
- Inviting someone who appears in a hurry or stressed to move in front of you at the supermarket checkout line.
- If you've had your patience stretched as you wait to reach a customer support line only to find the representative unhelpful, ask for their name and say, "You must be really busy today. I appreciate you taking the time to help me with this."
- It can also make us feel good when we recognise someone who has helped or shown us kindness.
- Compliments are free, and genuine compliments make others shine that bit brighter. So use them with abundance to build confidence and create positive emotional ripples.
- Send notes of appreciation to someone who’s made your day better or your work easier
- Leave random notes of kindness in public spaces for strangers to find - for example in a menu in the cafe, a library book or on a shelf in the supermarket. Buy a pack of Serving Up Kindness Cards
- For more kindness inspiration read Random Everyday Ways To Show Kindness blog post
Developing a kinder approach
The best thing about being kind is that it takes so little effort, and the payback is immediate for both you and the receiver. However, the stresses of everyday life won't disappear overnight, so it can be helpful to incorporate some kindness strategies into your daily life to keep you mindful of the benefits.
Notice when you see others performing acts of kindness – and compliment them.
Be generous with your appreciation when someone is kind to you- so they benefit from your kind response.
Whenever you're the recipient of an act of kindness, resolve to 'pay it forward' within a short time frame.
If you keep a daily ‘gratitude journal’, incorporate a ‘kindness’ section and record the kindness you’ve received and given
Meditate on kindness to deepen your understanding. Practice a traditional Metta, or Loving Kindness meditation, or one such as here by the Om Collective.
Being kind doesn’t take hard work, discipline, or much time. On the contrary, it's enjoyable and something we can all do more of every day. And as research demonstrates the immense benefits even small acts of kindness can have for ourselves and not only for the receiver, doesn't it make sense to focus more on the power of kindness?