The discussion around kindness has heightened ever since the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, perhaps owing to the rise of various aid groups during lockdowns and contingencies, or because the interruption of life as we knew it caused us to reconsider our priorities and values.
Indeed, kindness is undoubtedly considered one of the most prized social currencies, in addition to being the cornerstone for humankind’s virtues. Philosophers and spiritual gurus have hailed the virtue of kindness as a potent gift for centuries, while academic researchers and psychologists have conducted considerable research centered on the power of kindness.
Still, at some point in our lives, most of us have been denied a more compassionate approach by someone or have disregarded the option to extend kindness towards others. Some of us have also been bullied online or received a harsh response to a genuine query, and at times we’ve regretted our indifferent or judgmental behavior towards others. With the wide-ranging benefits of kindness so well known, why do we need to be reminded to choose kindness – why don’t we 'just be kind' all the time?
It is fair to wonder why we should have to “choose” kindness, rather than it being our natural state. However, our perennially busy and fast-paced lives may have rendered us indifferent to the suffering and problems of those around us. Furthermore, our inherent negativity bias may persuade us to react strongly to unfavorable or unpleasant outcomes, instead of assessing the situation in a more objective light.
Additionally, human beings are wired to judge others according to their character and actions, while they tend to judge themselves based on the situation. This tendency – also known as “fundamental attribution error” – is based on the inconsistency in our reaction towards other people’s actions or views. While we may attribute our failures or decisions to the circumstances we were caught up in during a situation, we do not readily assess other people’s behavior and problems in the same understanding manner.
For instance, if I ever park too close to someone else’s car, then I must’ve had an emergency, and hence it should be forgiven as a one-off incident. However, if someone else parked outside their line so that their vehicle encroaches a bit of my parking spot, then they must be irresponsible and need to be taught a lesson. Does this line of thought seem familiar to you as well?
Donating goods – or time – to a foodbank is one way to choose kindness shutterstock/BAZA Production
Indeed, choosing kindness can bring about the much-needed shift in the way we judge. Being kind can teach us to look carefully and objectively at the way we react to external stimuli and assess the circumstances before we react in a rude or harsh manner.
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible,” as the 14th Dalai Lama famously stated. Choosing kindness poses several benefits for us and others around us, yet costs nothing. To kindle kindness as a daily practice, Dr Tara Cousineau – renowned psychotherapist and author of The Kindness Cure – suggests that we ponder over the question: wow can I bring kindness into my day, in any small way?
“Choosing kindness can bring about the much-needed shift in the way we judge. Being kind can teach us to look carefully and objectively at the way we react to external stimuli.”
“Kindness is not random,” says Dr Cousineau. She explains that choosing kindness intentionally requires us to be compassionate, considerate, understanding and forgiving in a consistent manner, even on the days we may not feel like it. Authentic kindness requires genuine intention and effort on our part. The process of choosing kindness may gradually get easier once we start experiencing the joy or cheer that being kind sparks.
Being kind comes with a wealth of research-backed benefits. Acting kindly can make us feel less anxious, and can ease social avoidance tendencies, allowing us to form meaningful connections. Kindness can also combat psychological distress and alleviate depression.
A study by Dr Hans Kirschner et al revealed that being kind switches off our inbuilt threat response, allowing us to feel safe and relaxed, thus promoting tissue regeneration and healing in the body. This ability to switch off the threat response can reduce the onset of disease and boost our well-being.
Cultivating kindness in our daily routine begins with consistent action. Researcher Helen Weng compares the ability to practice kindness with the science of weightlifting, wherein one can build their ‘compassion muscle’ and get more adept at helping others with sufficient practise.
Here are seven ways in which we can try to choose kindness – every day:
It is possible to choose kindness in the way of small gestures and little things that can spread happiness and brighten someone’s day. Jot down one act of kindness for each day of the month – for others and yourself – that you can carry out, thus encouraging the neural pathways in your brain towards embracing positivity and compassion. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation shares a comprehensive list of kindness ideas that can be carried out with minimal effort.
Some examples of random acts of kindness can include:
Offering someone our undivided attention in the form of mindful listening can be a simple, effective and free way to choose kindness too. Remember it is essential to keep all technological distractions and our inner judgmental voice at bay while we do so.
A survey conducted by Harvard Business School pointed out that individuals who were more generous financially and made sizeable charitable donations measured highest for overall happiness levels. The study thus revealed that prosocial spending, or utilizing one’s financial resources to help others resulted in improved emotional well-being.
Raising funds for animal welfare, organizing a fundraiser for the care of cancer patients at your local hospital, helping a neighbor who may be facing a crisis by organizing a charity drive, etc. are some of the ways you could bring about a positive change by choosing kindness.
A litter pick shows kindness to the planet shutterstock/Dragon Images
While the advent of social media has made us more aware and conscious, unfortunately it also has given rise to rampant cyberbullying, and hostile behavior based on one’s appearance, ethnicity, gender stereotypes, and personal beliefs etc. We can choose kindness online by encouraging positive messages, spreading cheer and love instead of hate, and ignoring negative or hateful content. Even when we disagree with someone, it is possible to do so in an objective and respectable manner.
While gardening offers several mental health benefits as a hobby, it can contribute towards greener and cleaner living spaces as well. Finding small ways to reduce our carbon footprint and adopting more sustainable practices like picking up litter, packing a waste-free lunch, carrying your own tote to grocery shop, etc, can go a long way to improve the world around us.
It is important to remember that your employees and coworkers have their own challenges, hidden from plain sight. This is especially true in the current times, with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting lives at every level, as parents struggle to find a balance between working remotely and homeschooling. Leading with compassion can improve morale, boost productivity and ensure higher employee retention, according to research.
“Choosing kindness intentionally requires us to be compassionate, considerate, understanding and forgiving in a consistent manner, even on the days we may not feel like it.”
Leaders in service industry – and hospitality sector in particular – quite possibly realize the importance of choosing “habitual kindness”, in attempts to deliver experiences that customers will remember forever. Indeed, consumer decisions are often based on how well their expectations were met and the collective experience, so if you find yourself being loyal to a particular brand or service provider, it is probably because their leadership drives down kindness as their core value.
Choosing kindness towards yourself becomes more crucial than ever during adverse times, or when you are feeling low. Afterall, it’s harder to practice kindness towards others when you’re stressed or overwhelmed. Befriending yourself gently through self-compassion and self-care is the first step towards choosing kindness.
Psychologist Kristen Neff suggests establishing helpful self-compassion breaks when you find that you’re stressed or being too harsh on yourself. Place a hand over your heart and practice saying to yourself: “May I regard myself in a gentler, fair light.”, or “May I bring kindness to this moment, even when I’m stressed.” These self-compassion statements will help you center your attention back to choosing kindness for yourself.
As the famous saying goes, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind”. While we may not remember every person we ever met by their name, we are likely to remember each act of kindness rendered to us.
Indeed, choosing kindness as a daily practice can offer a host of physiological and psychological benefits. Carrying out a series of activities centered on kindness can boost happiness, as revealed by an investigation experiment by Lee Rowland et al. Exercising kindness may take some practice but can also create long-lasting happiness for others as well as ourselves.
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Fitness and healthy food blogger, food photographer and stylist, travel-addict and future self journaler. Sonia loves to write and has resolved to dedicate her life to revealing how easy and important it is to be happier, stronger and fitter each day. Follow her daily pursuits at FitFoodieDiary or on Instagram.
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