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We’re counting on kindness to help us get through
We’ve all heard the expression “survival of the fittest.” After all, in the jungle of life, the weak go to the wall and the strong survive, right?
Well, not necessarily. It turns out there may be an altogether kinder story behind the survival of the species, and it’s one we could all do with hearing right now.
“Kindness positively impacts our brain, heart, hormones, and our immune system, and may even be an antidote to depression.”
According to Dr David Hamilton, leaders aren’t always the strongest members of a pack. The ones chosen to lead are often those with the courage and mental acumen to protect their group from bullies. In other words, they’re the kind ones.
“Of course, we have a survival instinct, and we can be selfish when we need to be, but outside of immediate survival needs, our dominant nature is to be kind. It’s in our genes,” claims Dr Hamilton.
Following that argument, members of a group instinctively move towards kind protectors when they’re creating a team. In doing so, the group turns out to be stronger than any single oppressor, and that’s how kindness has helped us survive.
And guess what? Kindness can help us thrive.
A little bit of kindness goes a very long way.
We could all do with strategies to help us cope right now, and kindness is a simple place to start.
CBHS Wellness Consultant and nutritionist Julia Thorpe is an advocate for kindness. “Kindness positively impacts our brain, heart, hormones, and our immune system, and may even be an antidote to depression,” she says.
“When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good.”
The great thing about kindness is that it spreads, like honey on hot toast. And just like honey, a little goes a very long way. Mary Poppins wasn’t wrong when she sang, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!”
You could argue that happy people are kinder anyway, but kindness advocate Dr David Hamilton argues it’s the acts of kindness themselves that can make you happier. He calls it ‘Helper’s High’.
“When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good,” argues Dr Hamilton. “It’s believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, which we know as endogenous opioids. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high.”
How kindness can help you
It’s obvious that kindness benefits the recipient, but simple acts of kindness can benefit the person who offers them as well.
People who practice kindness and compassion are more likely to have better physical and mental health, stronger relationships, less stress, stronger immune systems, and a longer, happier life. And it doesn’t seem to matter if your kindness is directed at friends, strangers, or even towards yourself. All those acts of kindness show equally positive effects on your happiness.
“Kindness is like a superpower, a force for good.”
Where to start
Start by being a little kinder to yourself, and you’ll get the benefits. The better you feel, the kinder you’re likely to be towards yourself and others, which makes you feel better, so the kinder you become, the better you feel… and on it goes.
Isn’t that the sweetest feedback loop ever?
How kindness can help others
Kindness is like a superpower, a force for good. The simple act of smiling at a stranger, or calling a friend to check on them, can switch on your superpower and help you, and the person on the receiving end of your kindness, feel good.
The benefits that you’re likely to get from offering kindness radiate outwards. Acts of kindness and compassion can help people when they’re recovering from illness, they can help instill hope, solve problems, lend a hand, help reduce anxiety, and they can help people overcome loneliness.
“Not only will your kind acts nourish your soul and life right now, but they will affect all those around you,” says Julia.
Seven days of kindness experiment
For the next seven days, try practising kindness to yourself and those around you.
One for me, one for you
Sometimes, it’s easier to be kind to others than to ourselves. If that sounds like you, make a conscious effort to be ‘fair’ when distributing your acts of kindness. One for me, one for you!
Acts of kindness and compassion
Here are a few suggestions of how to be kind to yourself:
- Smile at yourself in the mirror, even if you don’t feel like it
- Give yourself a manicure or pedicure
- Write down three things you like about yourself
- Put on your favourite song and dance or sing along
- Bake your favourite cake, then freeze slices for later
- Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re not
- Get enough rest, and exercise when you can.
And here’s how you could be kind to someone else:
- Check in with a colleague to ask if they’re okay
- Smile at one person you don’t know each day (even with a mask, they’ll see it!)
- Send a thank you message to someone who’s made a difference in your life
- Organise a virtual catch-up for tea, coffee, or drinks
- Offer to cook dinner or wash up if you don’t normally
- Chalk a kind message on your neighbour’s driveway
- Offer someone in your life a thoughtful comment.
Kindness may be contagious, which means you can ‘catch’ it and pass it on, even with fleeting contact. And isn’t that the kind of news we need right now! It’s good to know there’s something beneficial we can all catch and pass on.
A single good deed can create a domino effect as the recipient of an act of kindness ‘pays it forward’, helping to improve the day for dozens more people.
According to Dr Hamilton, even witnessing an act of kindness produces oxytocin. This so-called ‘love’ hormone can help lower blood pressure and help improve overall heart health. Oxytocin may also increase self-esteem and optimism.
Try it and see what happens next time you’re out on a walk. Catch someone’s eye and smile at them, even if you’re wearing a mask. You’re likely to get a smile back, maybe not from everyone but your smile might have lit a small glow of hope in a random stranger.
You can take it a step further, say hello as you pass, and see how that makes you feel.
What if I don’t feel very kind?
There’s a simple solution if you’re feeling too disgruntled to be kind to anyone. Drop any negative self-talk, lower your expectations and tell yourself it’s okay to feel grumpy, it’s okay to have a bad day.
Then, try faking it.
“Our habits create us,” says Julia. “We can literally train our brains every day by the things we repeatedly say and do, so when we practice a small act of kindness, we’re training our brains to respond more naturally in ways that help us and others.”
Look at images of people smiling, even random strangers on a computer, then smile at yourself in the mirror. Tell yourself you’re doing the best you can with what you have and the circumstances you’re in. In other words, be kind to yourself.
We could all do with a touch more kindness in our lives.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
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