November 13th is World Kindness Day, making it the perfect time to extend care to people in your life–including yourself. You may have heard that being kind benefits not only the recipient of positive actions, but also the person who carries them out. Research shows that being considerate and caring is a win-win, resulting in health benefits for everyone involved.
What are some practical ways to spread more kindness in the world? For starters, improve the way you treat and speak to yourself—since the basis of all your relationships is the one you have with yourself (hello, self care!).
What Does Kindness Look Like?
Kindness is defined as "the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate." Just like the word “love,” kindness encompasses a lot of different positive behaviors and qualities, such as:
An important aspect of kindness is that it's typically selfless, meaning it's done without expectations of getting something in return. So even though being a kind person will likely benefit you in many ways, the best approach to kindness is doing it "from the goodness of your heart," not because you want favors or praise in return.
Health Benefits of Kindness
Studies show that being kind is beneficial for both your body and your mind. That's because kindness has the power to help you build bonds and meaningful relationships, add purpose to your life, and manage stress more easily.
Experts tell us that some of the health benefits of kindness include:
- Strengthening relationships and thereby reducing loneliness
- Increasing feelings of belonging and connectedness, whether among children, teens, or adults
- Lowering stress
- Increasing self-esteem
- Supporting mental health, in part by improving your mood and protecting against depression and anxiety
- Lowering pain and inflammation, which are often tied to stress
- Even contributing to longevity; research shows that longer lifespans are correlated with positive levels of social-engagement
One of the main ways kindness boosts your health is by lowering the release of "stress hormones," including cortisol, which can cause a range of negative responses when left unchecked.
For example, high levels of cortisol contribute to both short-term and long-term health issues such as: weight gain, cravings for junk food, poor sleep, digestive issues, high blood pressure, and compromised immune system function.
There's also evidence that kindness can change your brain in positive ways, strengthening neural connections that make you more resilient and optimistic. Being kind also increases your body's release of "feel good" neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine, which contribute to feelings of pleasure, happiness, calmness, and contentment.
How to Be Kinder
Some people say that "kindness is contagious," meaning that the more you put kindness out into the world, the more likely you are to receive it.
Looking for ways to show kindness during World Kindness Month and after it’s over? Here are some ideas:
1. Practice Self-Compassion
As mentioned above, a warm, loving attitude begins with how you treat yourself. Self-compassion, or showing yourself grace when you feel you've fallen short of your expectations, leads to higher happiness levels, greater life satisfaction, enhanced motivation, and a generally more positive mindset.
You can think of self-compassion as "generating kindness toward yourself as an imperfect human." Once you accept that you make mistakes just like everyone else, it becomes much easier to show this same warmth and understanding to others.
2. Praise Others and Show Appreciation
Arianna Huffington said, "Living in a state of gratitude is the gateway to grace." Complimenting others, focusing on their strengths, and being thankful all go a long way in maintaining relationships. This is true both in and outside of the workplace.
Make an effort to show your coworkers, boss, spouse, friends, etc., that you notice their hard work and unique skills. Watch how simple praise can light someone up and make their day.
3. Become More Empathetic and Forgiving
No one enjoys being judged or criticized. To practice kindness, try to put yourself in other people's shoes, show empathy, and keep an open mind. Empathy involves sharing the feelings of another person, which makes it easier to comfort and/or forgive them.
To be more empathetic and understanding:
- Look for values that you share with others rather than focusing on your differences.
- Ask questions so you can better understand someone's point of view.
- Accept apologies rather than holding grudges.
- Always remember that no one is perfect (including you!), but assume that each person is doing their best to find happiness.
4. Be a Great Listener
You probably already know that most people love to talk about themselves, which is one reason many adults don't listen well. If there's one meaningful thing you can give to others that's free and available, it's this: your undivided attention!
Make people feel seen, heard, understood, and special by actively listening to what they say. Avoid distractions, like looking at your phone, ask questions to dig deeper into their perspective, and use eye contact and body language to boost the quality of your conversations and connections.
5. Be a Team Player
A major aspect of being a kind person is wanting the best for others, sometimes to the detriment of yourself. Can you give credit where it's due? Are you willing to take less so someone else can have more? How do you feel about volunteering your time, energy, or money to others and to meaningful causes? Making sacrifices, even in small ways, is one of the surest ways to extend kindness.