Tucked away in positive psychology’s list of character strengths is one, little gentle one that, when applied, has the power to improve your day, build healthier relationships, slow aging, improve heart functioning, and make people happy. That’s what the research shows about kindness.
But the positive power of kindness is even wider and deeper than that. Embracing, as it does, our inborn empathy for one another, our compassion for suffering, and our longing to contribute in some, small way to the well-being of others, kindness speaks of the best in us.
It’s a quality so profound that the Dalai Lama even named it as the basis for his entire belief system. “This is my simple religion,” he said; “There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
Mark Twain said, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear, and the blind can read.” It’s a universal language that speaks to us all.
The Contagious Nature of Kindness
One of the characteristics that positive psychology researchers have recently demonstrated about happiness is its tendency to spread among people. Reporting on a recent study conducted by James H. Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis, an article in Wired magazine said, “In findings sure to gladden the heart of anyone who’s ever wondered whether tiny acts of kindness have larger consequences, researchers have shown that generosity is contagious.”
Dr. David R. Hamilton explains the contagious nature of kindness this way:
“I believe that kindness is contagious in three ways. The first is that we feel elevated when someone helps us. We’re on the crest of an emotional wave for a short time and from this state we feel inspired to help other people.
“Depending upon the situation, we might also feel relieved when someone helps us, especially if the situation we’re in is stressful. This reduces the stress or worry and we feel a surge of relief. Stress and worry often obstruct our real nature, which contains strong undercurrents of compassion and kindness. When stress goes away and is replaced with a feeling of relief, we’re more likely to act on opportunities to help others.
“The third way is that when we see someone being kind, something inside tells us that this is what we should be doing and so we are inspired by the observation of another’s kind behaviour. This is called social contagion.”
As Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip said, “Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”
We do ourselves good with kindnesses given as well. Acts of kindness increase the happiness of both the person who does the kindness and the recipient of the act.
How to Increase Your Kindness Quotient
You can increase the amount of kindness you spread by simply setting an intention to be kind. Opportunities to help others are everywhere.
You can find a wonderful list of ways to be kind at Random Acts of Kindness if you need some inspiration.
And here’s a description of a kindness activity from Positive Psych. Webs that you can try out just to see how expressing more kindness impacts your own life:
Perform a new act of kindness each day for a week. Create a list of potential acts of kindness you can do. Use this as a guide but feel free to change it as long as you do a new and different act each day. Reflect upon how you feel after doing each act of kindness and the reaction of the receiver, if applicable.
Note: research has found that the good feelings produced by doing acts of kindness actually last longer if you do all 5 acts in one day rather than spread out throughout the week. (If you do only one a day, it may start to feel like a chore.) Try it both ways and see if this makes a difference for you.
What science is finally confirming is wisdom that, in our hearts, we’ve always known. Way back in the 4th Century, Saint Basil, Bishop of Cesarea, said, “A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
Put the power of kindness to work in your life, beginning right now.
One way to do that would be to pass this article along to your friends. Do share!
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You may also enjoy: Self-Compassion: Being Your Own Best Friend – how to be kind to you.
Photo: Heath Brandon/Flickr.