In the movie “Shawshank Redemption,” Andy Dufresne buys Red a harmonica when his parole is rejected. It was a small, inexpensive gesture of kindness (although in prison, it was no small feat for Andy to get access to something like that), but one that reminded Red to always be hopeful. Some people seem to be born with a natural inclination to show kindness, (words and acts of kindness), but it is something that we can all nurture and enhance in ourselves.
Is kindness a value?
As far as core values go, kindness ranks as one of my biggest. As far back as I can remember, it’s been a defining characteristic of who I consider myself to be. I would second Roald Dahl’s sentiment when he says,
“I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage, or bravery, or generosity, or anything else.”
Well said, Mr. Willy Wonka creator.
Kindness as a health benefit
Did you know that showing acts of kindness can boost well-being by releasing feel-good hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine?
These hormones, in turn, have been known to decrease pain, depression, and anxiety. And these feelings from the simple act of being kind can have the same effect on both the giver and the receiver. It’s a win-win.
“Across a range of studies, people who carry out acts of kindness are found to experience greater wellbeing. This seems to be the case regardless of whether the recipient of our kindness is those close to us, society more broadly, or ourselves. There is even some evidence to suggest that simply remembering kind things we have done in the past may increase our wellbeing.”
Kindness to Yourself
Being kind to ourselves can often be even harder than being kind to others. While it may be more apparent when we’re showing kindness to others, we sometimes don’t even recognize when we’re being unkind to ourselves.
Listen to the words in your head. Are they caring and compassionate? Or are they mean-spirited and judgmental? Like the oxygen mask on an airplane, we have to begin by being kind to ourselves to put us in the right headspace in order to treat others with kindness.
Kindness to Others
I go to my local farmers market every week. The large majority of the people employed there are from Ethiopia and most speak Amharic as their first language. Every time I go, I ask at least one of the employees I come into contact with to teach me a new word in Amharic so I can use it the next time I’m there. Then each time, I greet the employees with a simple Amharic word or phrase (and often a different one when I’m saying goodbye).
This effort to learn something about their culture makes them feel respected (and maybe a little less lonely being in a foreign country). I have seen people’s moods go from sour to all smiles just from this tiny interaction. And I’ve even seen them pass that sentiment onto the next customer. When kindness is shared it grows.
“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.”
~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Why random acts of kindness are important
We are living in times of social media where it is easy to share our thoughts, ideas, and stories with others. We are also living in times where people are more disconnected than ever before.
The kind words that we share with each other can be a powerful gesture of solidarity. In a world where we are constantly surrounded by negative news, negativity and hate, it's important to remember the value of kindness.
To be kind means to have compassion, empathy, and understanding for someone or something else. It also means being gentle in one's actions. People don't have time for themselves or each other. However, one of the most important things that we can do for ourselves and others is to show some kindness towards them. Quotes about kindness can help remind us, and are easy to share on social media.
Kindness is a Practicable Skill
Just like exercise, healthier eating, or any other habit you’re trying to create, kindness is a skill that can be practiced every day.
“Years of psychological research reveal that kindness is more like a muscle that one can exercise and build.”
The good news is that being kind takes a lot less effort than those exercise or nutrition habits, and the benefits can be extraordinary. And kind people tend to be happier, and more likable. So, what’s the harm in seeing how showering people with kindness may leave you feeling?
Here are some ways to build those kindness muscles:
5 Simple Ways to Be Kind to Yourself:
1. Take a warm bath or sit in front of a nice fire while reading a book or listening to music.
2. Focus on your strengths and allow yourself to let go of being perfect.
3. Practice feeling “enough.”
5. Treat yourself the way you would treat your child or your best friend.
5 Simple Ways to Be Kind to Others:
1. Start up a conversation with a stranger or engage with someone at the store where you’re shopping. Ask questions. Do more listening than you do talking. Compliment something about them.
2. Text or call a friend or someone you care about that you haven’t seen in a while to say hi and let them know you’re thinking about them. Tell them something you respect or adore about them.
3. On your next trip to the store, ask a neighbor if they need anything. Or pick up a little something you know they like while you’re there and drop it off with a hand-written note.
4. Leave a thank you note (and possibly a tip if you have the funds, or a little treat if you don’t) for someone in the service industry.
5. Surprise someone with goodies from a meal delivery service.
Movies and Books That Inspire Kindness
If you need more inspiration, watch movies that embody kindness like:
Amelie, a charming movie about a woman who performs random acts of kindness with no intention other than to make others happy,
E.T., the classic Spielberg blockbuster
Dead Poets Society, with Robin Williams
It Could Happen to You, film based on a true story
Kindness is Contagious, an engaging, feel-good documentary about the effect of good deeds
The Goonies, a comedy adventure
The Blind Side, with Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw
Won’t You Be My Neighbor, with Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers
Here are some books that might be worth a read:
The War for Kindness, by Jamil Zaki
The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferrucci and Dalai Lama
And here are a few that can be used to help children understand kindness:
Kindness is my Super Power by Alicia Ortego
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfield
Kindness as a Tool to Change the World
“Kindness is not an act. It’s a lifestyle.” ~ Anthony Douglas Williams
We don’t have to agree on things to be kind to one another. We don’t even really need to like someone in order to be kind to them. And a little effort to be kind could inspire others to perform kind deeds. The world has become more divisive than ever, and kindness often feels like it’s gone the way of the dodo. But imagine how one small act of kindness can trickle down and begin doing the work to heal a society. It’s a tall order, but I believe one worth trying for.
“More recently, there has been growing interest in using kindness as an intervention to boost subjective well-being. The idea that, for example, ‘random acts of kindness’ can boost the well-being not only of the recipient, but also the actor, and could thereby provide a simple, effective, inexpensive and widely-available means of addressing social problems ranging from social isolation to more serious mental and physical health conditions, has been taken up and promoted by a large number of research groups, charities and government organisations.”
It doesn’t cost a thing to be kind. If anything, you may even rack up some good karma bucks. As the Dalai Lama says,
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Perfection rejectionist Lisa Kiersky Schreiber is a nutrition and lifestyle coach who helps clients take a holistic and realistic approach to wellness. Lisa got off the diet carousel and can help you do the same.
Find other articles written by Lisa on her coach profile. Her philosophy will help you simplify your nutrition lifestyle so you can learn to trust yourself implicitly around food.