Kindness is the great connector. It’s an act of gratitude, a feeling of compassion, and an extension of oneself. Practicing kindness elicits powerful experiences for the giver and receiver – both positive health benefits as a result. But what compels us to be kind to others? Research has shown that those who perform kindness tend to underestimate how valued the act is by the recipient, when in fact it’s quite the contrary. Social connection is at the core of who we are as human beings and kindness grows those bonds. Here we’re breaking down exactly how kindness works and how you can incorporate more compassion into your life.
The Science of Kindness
A little bit of kindness can go a long way. Studies have shown that acts of kindness have the power to benefit your overall health and happiness. Kindness increases your sense of connectivity with others, improves mood and feelings of loneliness, lowers levels of stressi, and enhances the quality of your relationships. Kindness and prosocial behavior are so impactful that it has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerveii which regulates the parasympathetic nervous system. When you’re feeling out of touch with the inner regulation of your body, looking for kindness and acting in kindness can medically calm and relax your system. These small gestures send a message to our brain that it’s time to de-stress. Another study showed that extending eye contact with another person releases oxytociniii in the other person. Simply acknowledging and valuing other people and their presence can bring joy to your life, but theirs tenfold. Our greatest power as human beings is the ability to spread love and kindness – and we’re scientifically wired to enjoy that behavior. Through generosity of spirit, you can extend the benefits of kindness onto yourself and others.
Leading with Kindness
People tend to think of kindness as a virtue when in reality kindness is a habit that needs practice in order to be strengthened. Tara Cousineau, a clinical psychologist, meditation teacher and author of “The Kindness Cure: How The Science of Compassion Can Heal Your Heart and Your World,” has found that people look for kindness yet are inconvenienced by the thought of being kindiv. However, no small act of kindness goes unnoticed and what may be a small act to one person might mean the world to someone else.
To lead with kindness, start by finding something that you already like to do. For those who enjoy baking, it’s as simple as bringing a few cookies from your next batch to a neighbor. If you have a coffee routine, ask your barista their name and be sure to start using it when you thank them. Next time you find yourself grocery shopping, pay it forward and cover the bill of the people behind you! Another great way to spread kindness? Give compliments to strangers you pass. They are free – give them generously and authentically. Embarking on a journey of kindness creates a kinder world and it starts with you. From how kind you are to yourself, to how you treat and value the people in your life, you model that behavior for others.
The Power of Kindness
Kindness is not just a feeling or an action. Kindness is a profound way of life that requires empathy, selflessness, and courage that requires us to embrace others’ pain and extend light, even when it’s unclear who needs it. So much of our daily routine and interactions are motivated by self, but when we practice kindness, we look outside of ourselves and create a ripple effect of compassion. Introducing random acts of kindness into your practice can benefit your health and change the course of someone's day. Sometimes it’s the little things that matter most and, in this regard, kindness is no exception. Harness the power of kindness and watch your life transform.
- Raposa, Elizabeth B., Laws, Holly B., Ansell, Emily B. (2016, June 23). Prosocial Behavior Mitigates the Negative Effects of Stress in Everday Life. Sage Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2167702615611073
- Hough T. On the Escape of the Heart from Vagus Inhibition. J Physiol. 1895 Jul 18;18(3):161-200. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1895.sp000561. PMID: 16992249; PMCID: PMC1514637.
- Auyeung B, Lombardo MV, Heinrichs M, Chakrabarti B, Sule A, Deakin JB, Bethlehem RA, Dickens L, Mooney N, Sipple JA, Thiemann P, Baron-Cohen S. Oxytocin increases eye contact during a real-time, naturalistic social interaction in males with and without autism. Transl Psychiatry. 2015 Feb 10;5(2):e507. doi: 10.1038/tp.2014.146. PMID: 25668435; PMCID: PMC4445747.
- Pearson, Catherine. (2022, September 2). The Unexpected Power of Random Acts of Kindness. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/02/well/family/random-acts-of-kindness.html