Kindness

Recently I took advantage of an opportunity to help a couple of strangers.  The experience reminded me of the profound power of kindness.  Wrapped up in my own anxieties over personal, national, and global unrest I had been feeling overwhelmed for months, probably even longer.  Once a fairly altruistic person I had become enveloped in life’s hardships and to-do lists.   Responsibilities and uncertainty over the past few years were compounded by a global pandemic in the past few months.  Add to that the tumultuous and even violent political election season, full of animosity and disparagement, and I had pretty much checked out of impulsively sharing random acts of kindness. Then last week I unexpectedly had the chance to make someone else’s evening a bit easier and more enjoyable and I rose to the occasion.  I am so incredibly grateful that I did!  The quick exchange left me feeling lighter than I had in years.

It’s easy, especially in today’s society, to get so lost in our own circumstances that we forget to think of others.  Those of us who do energy work and study mind-body connection know how deeply this type of discord can affect us all.  Even those who don’t can still feel the effects but don’t have a name for it.  With social media to buffer us, our differences are highlighted, and our righteousness is nurtured.  And for the past eight plus months we have had less in person interactions with strangers, less physical face to face with those unlike us, giving us less opportunities to practice patience and kindness.  Although it may sound simplistic humans thrive on these interactions.  When distanced and hidden behind the mask that our screens provide, we can behave like hyenas or honey badgers.  We often attack ferociously with the appearance of harmless amusement.  Unlike those predators, we possess the knowledge to know the harm that our words and actions can cause. 

Here’s the thing though, a lot of our meanest memes, posts, and comments are pretty funny and we could all use a good laugh. After all, laughter is the best medicine so we’re really just healing ourselves, right?  Actually that’s wrong.  In reality, encouraging division and nurturing anger does us more harm than good.  Research shows that this type of behavior actually opposes our natural human instincts.  But I’m not here to lecture on social media etiquette, trying to understand someone else’s perspective, or anything else written on my hippy dippy soapbox.  Instead I want to give you something to think about for a solid investment in your own happiness: consciously practicing kindness.

Selfless kindness to others truly does have substantial and measurable benefits.  The most obvious benefit is the help that we give to another person.  It’s observable and it’s basic.  A wide variety of religions are based on one version or another of doing onto others as we would want done to us.  And most of us would prefer that we are treated with understanding and compassion. There have actually been studies to indicate that those on the receiving end of kindness smile more, but that’s not really surprising.  It’s no shock that people are happier when everyone is nice to them.

What may surprise you is the benefit to those who act with kindness, like the sort of benefits that I received last week. Behaving kindly increases our own aptitude for joy.  Studies show that by performing acts of kindness on a regular basis we increase our own levels of self-acceptance and well being.  Behaving more humanely lowers our own levels of stress and negativity.  Even simply focusing on loving kindness improves our own feelings of social connectedness and positivity over time.  Overall a generous and compassionate lifestyle is extremely psychologically and physically beneficial to not only the recipient, but to the giver as well.  It’s not something we think about often, but it’s actually pretty obvious. You don’t have to be a scientist to notice that you feel different after making a nasty comment than you do when you compliment a stranger. And there’s another bonus! Selfless behavior is also influential.  Just witnessing a kind deed, other people are instinctively inclined to use their own resources to help someone else.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving!  So simply by being kinder, by thinking before you speak or act with anger, you make others happier, make yourself happier and healthier, and influence the people who see it to do the same.  I mean, that’s a solid return on investment! 

I once had a friend tell me that you can’t save the world simply by smiling at a stranger.  He was right, you can’t.  But smiling at that stranger who then smiles at another and so on can make a measurable difference.  Giving up your seat on a bus, dropping a thank you note to a friend, or simply refraining from mocking someone has no cost to you, but can be of great benefit.  Today is World Kindness Day.  In celebration, consider committing just one small act of kindness. If it feels good, maybe do it again tomorrow.  No one expects you to be striving for sainthood and it may not save the world, but it’s a good start!  And if the social, emotional, and physical benefits of kindness aren’t immediate or enough for you, keep trying. Next Friday is National Peanut Butter Fudge Day. You can reward your benevolence then!

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