Updated: Nov 18, 2021
Photo by Szabolcs Papp on Unsplash
Sometimes we just want to escape to a whole new reality. One where good deeds are both welcomed and rewarded, and those plotting injustices are thwarted before they can begin. The scammers have all been exposed and the swindlers are only able to cheat themselves. It’s not so much about the absence of problems or challenges, but a place where people’s intentions are based on caring and kindness.
Our present world has been distorted by discord, disparity, and discrimination. The global pandemic exposed many of these concerns which previously were often ignored or overlooked. While I choose to believe our society is not on an irreversible course to eminent destruction, it does make it difficult for many who want to change its direction and promote positive behaviors like caring, compassion, and kindness.
Imagine if there were a world where benevolence was rewarded, helpfulness was applauded, and every act of kindness was compensated. While kindness never seeks anything in return, one could only dream how frequently kind acts would occur.
Although this kind of world may be considered a utopia, is it out of the realm of possibility? Are there benefits when we perform acts of kindness? Are there undiscovered treasures bestowed upon us when we are kind?
Perhaps one deterrent for being kind is the worry of its being taken advantage of. When kindness is shown to someone who turns out to be a fraud, there is a tendency to feel duped. Another misconception is that it is too often perceived as weakness. The real damage is allowing the troubling behavior of others to negatively affect you. Even if your kindness was conned from you, there are positive effects if you allow yourself to receive them.
Studies have shown that kindness increases self-esteem, empathy, compassion, and an improvement in one’s mood. Kindness increases your sense of connection to others which in turn, helps with loneliness and enhances your ability to form and build relationships. Searching for ways to be kind also provides a focused activity which reduces stress and anxiety. Furthermore, kindness is contagious and when done in large groups encourages others to do the same.
A group of highly anxious people were involved in a study where they were asked to perform six acts of kindness a week. After one month, there was a sizable increase in their positive moods, more satisfaction in their relationships and a decrease in social avoidance.
Many of the emotional benefits occur because of the physiological responses kindness creates. One of the hormones it produces is oxytocin which is sometimes known as the “love hormone.” It releases nitric oxide into our blood, dilating the vessels, lowering blood pressure, and reducing stress. This enables us to have more energy, pleasure, and overall happiness.
It also produces serotonin, an antidepressant which has a calming effect and can decrease the time it takes to heal wounds. According to research out of Emory University, kindness towards another person lights up the pleasure and reward centers of your brain as though you are the recipient of that kindness.
Dopamine, a vital hormone influencing one’s mood and motivation, is also released by kind acts. Likewise, endorphins are produced decreasing the level of pain.
While kindness increases positive attributes, it also decreases negative effects. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone which increases blood sugar, is reduced. Lower levels of cortisol also slow the aging process. Studies have shown that perpetually kind people have an average of 23% less cortisol than the average population.
A kindness regiment
In a perfect world, there would be no need to promote, applaud, or teach kindness. This, however, is not a perfect world and humankind should make it a priority to promote, practice, and applaud it at every opportunity. Exercising the kindness muscle ought to hold as much importance as our need for physical exercise. Indeed, there are studies which show kindness is teachable, contagious, and accumulative.
Simply observing an act of kindness can improve the way we feel. When it is witnessed by a group of people, it will improve their mood and make them more likely to pay it forward. Ultimately, the goal is to make a cognitive effort to increase your ability for kind actions. Although certain people seem to have a greater capacity for it, everyone can learn to increase their ability to be kind.
A terrific system to increase your ability and encourage that of another is to find a “kindness buddy” just as you may do for exercise. Create goals and inspire one another to reach further than you expected. Compete, if you will, because this sort of competition can never have a loser. Search for new ways to be kind and try to become aware of areas in which you may not realize you were desperately lacking.
One of the areas in which we often overlook is those we see regularly. The ones with whom we interact every day or perhaps even the ones we are supposed to love the most. The familiar often become trivialized and the everyday unfortunately are too easily underappreciated. These are traps which regularly go unnoticed and can produce the most damage.
It feels good to be treated kindly, but when we are in a difficult moment, a simple act of kindness can dramatically improve the situation. Had we been treated rudely or unkindly, it could have influenced our actions in regrettable ways.
The alternative to kindness is cruelty, spitefulness, or brutality. In the past, it was often taught in order to be a strong leader this was the proper protocol. But what has been recently witnessed are those who promote this kind of behavior are crumbling from the highest places and their selfish agendas are being exposed. Arrogance and ruthlessness are losing their formerly venerated status and the world is beginning to see its only hope is kindness.
Let’s begin a new regiment of kindness and see how many treasures we will discover. My thanks to Szabolcs Papp on Unsplash for the wonderful picture and I look forward to your comments.