“Kindness is just love with its work boots on.” – Shelley Darlingson
When we feel worn down, fed up, or completely exhausted just taking care of our own needs, acts of kindness are not usually at the forefront of our minds. I, for one, am prone to dwelling on how everyone should be kinder to ME. I may even ruminate on the reasons they’re not, and harden myself to people around me, sometimes venturing into mental stories of hardship and abandonment. Your shadow stories might not be the same as mine, but most of us have ways of withdrawing when we’re feeling depleted or down.
This is the perfect time for an act of kindness. Hear me out!
1. Your brain will reward you
Performing an act of kindness boosts your serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter most often associated with happiness. You’ll get a boost, the receiver of your kindness will get a boost, and even someone who witnesses the act will get a little bump! Other research has shown it releases endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers), dopamine (pleasure and motivation), and oxytocin (love and bonding), and can reduce your cortisol (stress hormone) and blood pressure. No doubt about it, your body and brain love a good act of kindness.
2. It’s a pattern interrupt
When we’re angry, afraid, or in crisis, it’s natural to enter survival mode and become self-focused. If we let the self-focus continue past keeping ourselves safe, we can enter a cycle or downward spiral like the one I described above (why aren’t I getting what *I* need?), building resentment and pushing people away. Our thoughts can feed our feelings, which can feed our attitudes, which can feed our behaviour, which feeds more thoughts, until before we know it, we’ve talked ourselves into a hole that’s hard to get out of.
When we shift the focus outside of ourselves and offer kindness to others, something we usually do when we’re happy, we break the cycle and make space for a new pathway.
3. We can only control our own actions
It would certainly be nice if we could choose for other people to be kind to us when we need it, but that isn’t how it works. If we want to bring kindness, love, and warmth to a situation or relationship, the only surefire way to do that is to BYO. Which brings me to my next reason.
4. Kindness begets kindness
Whilst it’s a flawed strategy to perform an act of kindness with a specific goal of getting something back, modelling kindness will inspire people around you to do the same. Maybe not everyone, and certainly not all the time, but there’s no doubt that kindness, gratitude, and happiness are contagious. The more you put out, the more likely it is you’ll be on the receiving end.
It certainly has a higher chance of success than the resentment pathway described in the intro, anyway.
5. It improves your psychological wellbeing
There is significant scientific evidence that acts of kindness improve various aspects of wellbeing, including happiness, life satisfaction, mood, and overall mental health. It has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, which in turn improves resilience, and it will certainly help to strengthen your relationships and social connections, which has its own benefits for mental health and stress reduction. It doesn’t matter what kind of kindness activity you prefer, and it doesn’t matter whether the recipient is a loved one or a stranger, you’ll reap the rewards anyway.
Remember that an act of kindness doesn’t have to be time-consuming, or expensive, or high effort. A few simple words or recognition or appreciation may be all it takes, making this a potentially low-input, high-returns investment.
One final thing to remember….
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
― Jack Kornfield