By Jayde Austin
Kindness can be defined as ‘the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.’ It is a behavioural response by which we act selflessly. We all know it feels good to make someone smile. Whether you’re letting someone cut in front of you in a line, opening a door, helping someone carry a heavy load, or paying for a stranger’s coffee; you never really know how deep of an impact you've had in someone's life... what you consider a little bit of kindness may give someone a whole lot of hope. The impact of something so simple, is quite incredible – and the ripple affect it has is undeniable.
Psychology Today explained that kindness is so often disregarded. But why is it undervalued? They say it is partly because kind people can be viewed as ‘enablers’ by some, or worse, as ‘suckers’ by the cynical. Thus, the cynic’s view is that one is a ‘sucker’, if they behave in a kind, generous manner towards others. This reflects a belief system that success is only achieved through stepping on, or ignoring others. But what is interesting is that a cynic’s behaviour rarely results in true happiness. They often find it difficult to gain a sense of feeling loved - that their true destiny and purpose is fulfilled, and that what they are doing matters in the most profound sense.
Kindness is actually linked inextricably to happiness and contentment - at both the psychological and spiritual level. Over a decade ago, in a study of Japanese undergraduates, researchers, Otake and colleagues, found that happy people were kinder than people who were not happy. Their study also revealed that a person’s sense of happiness increased by the simple act of counting the number of their acts of kindness, with them becoming even more kind and grateful.
Isn’t that amazing? That random acts of kindness are linked to our sense of happiness and purpose. You see, kindness promotes gratitude. When we are kind to others in need, our capacity to have empathy and compassion is extended, and we feel a greater sense of interconnectedness with others. When you help others, your own sense of gratitude is also heightened because you have a better understanding of your own good fortune. Furthermore, creating something unexpected and wonderful in someone else's life, no matter how small, also sets in motion a dramatic shift in a positive direction that can profoundly change lives.
For example, when our children witness us doing good in the world, they are taught gratitude, compassion, love, and unity. Did you know that science shows that children are biologically wired to be kind, and we further develop this trait with practice and repetition? Outside influences and the stress of day-to-day lives often results in people losing this inherent ability; but by setting an example, and reinforcing kind and thoughtful behaviour, children can be taught that in a world that is so often cruel to others, kindness – and happiness – is choice, and is there to be spread around.
On a scientific level, when we are kind, a hormone called oxytocin is released in our bodies. Oxytocin is primarily associated with loving touch and close relationships. This hormone provides us with the warm fuzzies, by stimulating dopamine and serotonin. According to a study of adults aged 57-85, ‘volunteering manifested the strongest association with lower levels of inflammation.’ Oxytocin reduces inflammation, and even little acts of kindness can trigger oxytocin’s release. It is also responsible for a healthier heart. Oxytocin triggers a release of nitric oxide in blood vessels, which expands the blood vessels, reducing blood pressure. It's therefore known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone, because it protects the heart by lowering blood pressure.
Anxiety is an extremely common human experience, presenting itself in a number of ways, ranging from mild nervousness to a severe panic. While there are several ways to reduce anxiety, such as meditation, yoga, natural remedies, and psychotherapy, it turns out that being nice to others can be one of the easiest, most inexpensive ways to keep anxiety at bay! A study on happiness from the University of British Columbia (UBC) found that ‘social anxiety is associated with low positive affect (PA), a factor that can significantly affect psychological well-being and adaptive functioning.’ Positive affect refers to an individual’s experience of positive moods such as joy, interest, and alertness. These researchers found that participants who engaged in kind acts displayed significant increases in PA, with increases being sustained for over four weeks of the study's duration. So, the next time you’re feeling a little anxious, look for opportunities to spread kindness, and see if it helps! Try simply smiling at someone, phoning a friend or volunteering your time to help others.
So there you have it; kindness results in happiness, good health, contentment and an inarguable chain reaction. It's good for our lives, our souls, and everyone around us. It's the habit of giving, and the desire to lift burdens from others by being selfless. It humanises us, connects us, and lifts us spiritually. When we are coming from a place of generosity, of giving and kindness that is pure and without any expectation or reward in return, what is occurring is the manifestation of gratitude, hope and guidance. It leads us to a better way of living, greater happiness and the ability to impact deeply others. So… what will your next act of kindness be?