Today (13 November) is World Kindness Day. The world might seem a difficult place to feel optimistic right now. At times like these it’s important to be kind to ourselves and others. Read more about how to handle the news when it’s anxiety-provoking or even traumatic in our article here.
While what is happening in the world around us may make us feel powerless, we can remind ourselves where we do have power. All of us can be kind. Small acts of kindness can have big effects, and not only benefit others but also ourselves. In a world full of hashtags and slogan T-shirts making money off of the concept to ‘be kind’, kindness is still a choice.
On World Kindness Day we explore exactly why kindness really counts.
The Mental Health Foundation found in a 2020 survey that 63% of UK adults say their mental health is improved by kindness shown to them. The same survey found 63% say their mental health is improved by being kind to others.
In addition, practicing ‘kindness to others’ can indeed have benefits to our mental health and even prevent future mental illness.
Of course, mental ill health cannot be cured simply by kindness, but it can be helped. In fact, one study suggested that just 2 weeks of self-administered kindness and gratitude exercises can reduce distress in those waiting for psychological treatment. This exercise increased satisfaction, optimism and reduced anxiety.
But why might this be?
Volunteer for a longer life
Doing good might be good for us as well as others. Those who help others usually have healthier, happier lives. Kindness matters at every stage of life, it might help people in midlife and older years to live longer and feel more connected. For those with fewer years on the planet under our belts, young people understand the power of kindness to help the person being kind and for the person receiving the kindness.
Acts of kindness are linked to increased feelings of well-being. And helping others can improve mood, self-esteem and happiness, for example volunteering was shown to reduce depressive symptoms. Helping others can also reduce stress which, though not a mental illness, can be the symptom of and the cause of mental illness.
Helping others, such as through volunteering, can also improve our support networks and encourage us to be more active which could in turn improve our physical health and therefore potentially promote longer and healthier lives. Self-esteem, self-efficacy, and social connectedness are also all improved when volunteering
It is important though to note, while well-being, happiness, health, and longevity are increased for those who are compassionate emotionally and in their behaviour, this effect only takes place so long as they are not overwhelmed by tasks.
In other words, the benefits of being kind are outweighed if the efforts it takes to be kind become too much.
To Your Happiness and Good Health
Kindness is linked to happiness too. Happy people tend to be more motivated to be kind, more able to recognise kindness from others and to recognise kindness in themselves.
Excitingly, the same study that indicates the above findings also showed happiness might be increased simply by counting one’s own acts of kindness for one week. Subsequently, this habit of counting kindnesses also bred more acts of kindness.
So, science seems to say if you want to be happier, be kind!
And how about being kind to ourselves? Well, when it comes to mental health, there’s increased interest in the importance of self-compassion for those of us in therapy or treatment for mental illness. But what about those conducting the therapy? Self-kindness is an often neglected issue among mental health professionals despite the risks of burnout or compassion fatigue, hence a recent recommendation for teaching self-compassion in the training of mental health professionals.
Maybe some of us might have our own compassion fatigue after the last few years of difficulties and living in our current societal circumstances. However the ‘pay-it-forward’ movement that began a few years ago has many positive effects including the breeding of further acts of kindness, thus contributing to a happier, kinder community.
So what kind of kindness has the best effect? Well, it’s less about what and more about how many. Researchers have found being kind to ourselves, to those we know, to those we don’t, even to strangers we never meet, boosts happiness. Even simply noticing kind acts others do around us increases happiness.
Ultimately, the more kind acts we do, and the more kind acts we notice, the happier we are.
12 Ways To Be Kind Today
So to boost your happiness, we’ve come up with 12 ways you can be kind today. But get creative! Kindness can be free and fun.
- Compliments – complimenting your friends, loved ones, people you meet can give you and them a boost. If you’d like to focus on yourself, try affirmations or mantras or finding 3 things you like about yourself when you look in the mirror. It might be a struggle for some of us, but it can help to promote a focus on positivity.
- Quality time – spending time with those you care about or being kind to yourself by carving out time for self care can promote better connections to ourselves and others.
- Smile – smiling at strangers boosts feeling of positivity. Some people might not respond but as long as you accept you’re spreading joy and not expecting it back, this simple and not intrusive practice can be infectious, in a good way!
- Offer to help someone – whether it is someone struggling to reach something on a shop shelf, a colleague finding a task you understand challenging or offering a stranger directions, there are many ways we can help others. It’s important to note the importance of ‘Kindness with consent’ – rather than give unsolicited help, offering help and co-collaboration to find out what someone needs. So rather than helping without offering first, simply asking “is there anything I can do to help?” can be a huge help in itself. The answer might be “no” but the offer itself is the kindness.
- Chat – chatting with people, as long as we are confident they are consenting to a chat, promotes social connection and reminds us we’re not as isolated as we might fear. Discernment is key but perhaps consider striking up conversation with someone you might not otherwise chat to could lead to a connection you might not otherwise have realised.
- Check in with people – asking how someone is and holding space for the answer is a small way to offer what could be a vital lifeline. Whether a text to a friend you’ve not heard from for a while, checking in with your partner how their day is going or asking a person serving you how they are today might not lead to a deep and meaningful but it could just be enough of a connection for someone to open up.
- Gratitude – practicing gratitude is a phrase that might seem annoyingly new age but gratitude takes practice. Counting 10 things you’re grateful for daily can encourage a focused perspective on all we have rather than all we lack. And voicing our gratitude and thanks to others helps them feel seen and acknowledged, that their efforts are noticed. That could be telling those you care about why they matter, or thanking a waiter for attentive service, commenting on a social media account you really enjoy, there are many ways to practice gratitude.
- Acknowledge and notice – noticing others doesn’t have to mean a conversation or expression of thanks, it could be making eye contact, not ignoring people, addressing people who serve in shops or restaurants by the names on their name tags if they have them or asking their name to see the human behind the role first and foremost.
- Do a task – taking tasks off other people’s hands is an act of service. That could mean doings chores, washing up tea cups for work colleagues, cleaning the dishes for your partner or spouse, offering to mow the lawn of your neighbours, walking a friend’s dog for free, babysit, researching cooking for someone, offering to send a takeaway for someone who is struck working late into the night.
- Patience and compassion – to yourself and others. This act of kindness might be challenging, particularly in certain situations such as online or in debates, but practicing patience and compassion, taking a breath to pause before responding, can dowse fires of aggression before they begin.
- Arrange a meet up – socialising can help us to be kind to others and to ourselves. Socialising is good for our mental health so arranging a festive gathering, a birthday party, Eurovision get-together or just a “No-Reason To Celebrate Celebration” could promote our feelings of social connection and provide opportunities for friends to do something different, make new connections and be distracted from their troubles.
- Generosity – you don’t have to give money. You could give your time or your expertise. If you like baking, you could give cookies to neighbours, strangers, people who serve you. You could leave wild flowers in windscreen wipers on cars on your street. You could write compliments and slip the paper into books in bookshops. And yes, you could be give to charities – your money or your time by volunteering. And if you need another reason, giving charitably can increase your sense of well-being, science suggests.
Happy World Kindness Day to you and everyone. And if the world feels unkind to you right now, be kind to yourself by reading this article from MQ on how to cope.