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  • Teresa McKee

Practicing Kindness

Can you remember the last time somebody was kind to you? How did it make you feel? Now imagine how others must feel when you are kind to them. Kindness is vital to human existence and is an important value to harness. The world is currently suffering in many ways, and that, in turn, means people are too. Everyone has a different story, a different walk of life, and a different viewpoint, but that does not mean we should not be kind. It’s saddening to see that hostility seems to be the go-to over differences between opinions over wearing masks to getting vaccinated to dealing with inflation to political strife.

It’s common for our instincts to mirror incoming impulses- to meet frustration or aggression with the same emotions, for example. The challenge in addressing chaos is something that doesn’t come naturally to most people — getting out of reactive mode and into interactive mode. When someone disagrees with us, we tend to judge the person instead of the behavior that the person is demonstrating. That opens the door for hatred and shuts down any opportunity for discussion or healthy debate. We may dislike the other person's behavior but that has nothing to do with who they are, and when we jump to hostility and hatred, we no longer see them as people just like us. We see them as an opponent and a threat. So how do we return to a more civilized world in the midst of all of this hostility? The answer may be as simple as kindness.

Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. It’s also the capacity to feel for another’s unhappiness or misfortune, and sympathetic concern for the well-being of others. The opposite of kindness is cruelty, harshness, hatred, hostility and cold-heartedness. It’s important to keep in mind that despite what we see on the news and social media, there are probably many more kind people than hostile people on the planet. Kindness just isn’t sexy enough to sell advertising, so we typically see the worst of humanity instead of the best, unfortunately. But I think after what we’ve all been through, a little more kindness might be in order.

What does kindness have to do with mindfulness? Well, first, you can’t be kind without paying attention to the present moment situation. Second, mindfulness is simply the act of present-moment and non-judgmental awareness, so based on that definition, doesn’t necessarily do anything for others. It takes actions to live mindfully and it is through kindness and compassion that the spirit of mindfulness comes alive.

Putting the well-being of others before our own without expecting anything in return stimulates the reward centers of the brain, studies show. Those feel-good chemicals flood our system, producing a sort of "helper's high." Kindness is related to feelings, responsiveness, sensitivity, affection, love, empathy and generosity. Expressing these behaviors benefits both the giver of kindness and the receiver. Kindness has been shown in studies to reduce stress and improve mood and self-esteem. It can create a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation. There is some evidence that being aware of our own acts of kindness can increase feelings of happiness, optimism and satisfaction. In fact, you'll experience even greater joy if you're creative with your acts of kindness. Happiness researchers found that people who did a variety of acts of kindness throughout the week showed greater increases in happiness than those who performed the same activity over and over again. Additionally, these acts of kindness can be anonymous or visible, spontaneous or planned, and can be as simple as giving a compliment or opening a door for someone. So, scientifically speaking, kindness is really good for us.

There’s a bigger picture result from being kind as well. Acts of kindness have the potential to make our world a happier place due to two outcomes from kind behavior. Kindness can boost feelings of confidence and being in control. Much of the mean behavior we’re witnessing is really people’s desperation to feel more in control, so practicing kindness could not only help them achieve that, but alleviate the stress and frustration that spills over into society as a whole.

Additionally, humans indirectly learn behaviors through observing others. We know emotions are contagious, but so are behaviors. As we observe behaviors, our brains are analyzing not just the behaviors, but the moral judgments behind them. We’re learning without even being conscious of it and it’s why modeling is so heavily emphasized in child-rearing. Children learn more from what we do than from what we say.

Since kindness can improve our own health plus help others, it seems like a no-brainer. There are literally hundreds of ideas on the internet, but here are a few to get you started:

  • While driving, make room for the car that wants to enter your lane.

  • Give a genuine compliment to a family member, friend or colleague

  • Bring a sweet treat to the office for everyone to enjoy

  • Send a good morning or good night text to ensure someone's day starts or ends on a good note.

  • Be there for a friend having a tough time. Don't try to fix it; just listen.

  • If you have social media, reply to a post you found helpful.

  • Overtip your server or delivery person.

Keep in mind no one is perfect and we can’t be kind 100% of the time. Everyone gets tired at some point. Many people are overworked and are worried about their family and friends. Consider being kind to yourself in the midst of this chaos. We all need a break. Practice being kind to yourself. Take care of yourself, be gentle with yourself when you make a mistake. Be self-loving when you’re unwell or sad. Integrate kindness into your meditation practice by placing your hand over your heart and soften your self-talk by reminding yourself to relax or take it easy or to remind yourself that you’re okay. Appreciate how good it feels to be kind, which means mindfully paying attention to what happens in your mind and body when you’ve performed a kind act.

To increase kindness towards others, tell people when you feel something positive about them. Consider kindness before you speak. You know, that old adage that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. In conversations, listen more than you talk. People want to be heard and this is one of the kindest actions you can take, to provide them that space. Model kindness by being mindful of how you treat others.


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