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How to cultivate kindness

This image shows 5 rows of assorted beans, placed on a swathe of white fabric. Each row is made up of 5 beans that are very similar in terms of colour and pattern, but completely different from the other rows. They form a pretty pattern and colour palette that makes me think of how we can cultivate kindness with deliberate intent. And of course beans are a kind of seed that can grow.

It’s worth making the effort to cultivate kindness wherever you go, and whatever you do. We hear a lot about diet, exercise, goal setting, work-life balance, and other self-focused ways of improving wellbeing, but kindness could trump them all. Because kindness has a beneficial effect on absolutely everybody involved – the receiver, the giver, and the people around them.

This article encourages you to formalise kindness by creating systems in your environment that support and propagate it.

Kindness is good for the person receiving it

When you’re going through something painful, such as some kind of change or hardship, you often feel isolated. Even though some of these experiences are common, such as living through a painful loss, or recovering from a physical or mental health difficulty, they can be excruciating, leaving you feeling disconnected and vulnerable.

People in pain tend to shut down, withdraw, and avoid others, but these behaviours can prolong and even exacerbate the pain you’re experiencing.

Kindness from other people makes you feel supported and fosters a sense of human connection, which can lessen feelings of loneliness. Kindness has been shown to help people recover from trauma, addiction, and disabling mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.

Receiving kindness is deeply meaningful. Even a tiny act of kindness can be the reason you find the courage to carry on. It doesn’t matter whether it’s from strangers, from professionals, or from people you know, kindness can be the thing that touches you, that breaks through your barriers. When you receive kindness, you feel warm and grateful.

When you have been the recipient of an act of kindness, you’re also more likely to “pay it forward”. You’ll probably be kind to someone else, and so the cycle will continue.

Kindness benefits the person offering it

There are many physical and emotional benefits to practising kindness. Research shows that performing both large or small acts of kindness on a daily basis, and adding to them regularly, is healthy for the giver.

Being kind to others makes you like yourself better, it lowers your anxiety and stress levels, and makes your life more satisfying to you. Practising kindness even makes you live longer!

Performing intentional (planned) or random acts of kindness on a daily basis, and writing them in your kindness journal, boosts your overall happiness.

This kindness practice becomes a rewarding cycle that builds kindness into your identity. And that in turn makes you more likely to do more kind things and keep it up over time.

Kindness benefits anyone witnessing it

Witnessing an act of kindness moves you emotionally because you feel like you’re involved. Even watching animals being kind to one another makes you feel warm and fuzzy. And again, seeing kindness makes you more likely to be kind in turn.

Cultivate kindness and be part of a positive cycle

Good things happen in the world, but they seldom make headlines. Everybody knows that negative energy affects others, and it can be hard to counter the toxic effects of the pessimism, nihilism, and hopelessness that emanate from the news and social media clickbait.

Yet positive energy affects others too! When anyone is kind to anyone, it reassures everyone. Authentic kindness fills everyone with a sense of gratitude – that there are people who care, that we’re not alone in this world, and that there is reason to hope.

Cultivate kindness at work

Research shows that a positive work culture makes employees more engaged, more satisfied, and more productive. So, when a culture of kindness develops in an organization, people flourish (and so does the bottom line).

The best culture comes from the top down (management to employees) and is part of the organisation’s existing systems. But anyone in any position within an organisation can start a kindness initiative and see a difference – both inside and outside the workplace.

Cultivate kindness at school

Children demonstrate empathy and kindness from as young as 18 months old. After all, kindness makes sense from an evolutionary perspective – we are social creatures, and acts of kindness foster social connectedness.

Teachers, parents, and members of the community can cultivate kindness at school by creating kindness circles, clubs, and societies. You’ll soon enjoy the impact on the school community as kindness ripples outwards and improves everyone’s wellbeing.

Cultivate kindness at home

We are born with a natural tendency to be kind, so why not foster and reinforce this behaviour at home? If you’re a parent, start practising your own kindness just by noticing acts of kindness from your children and making a positive comment.

Keep in mind that when you praise kids for being kind, praise their character and not their behaviour – encourage them to build an identity around being kind.

However, if you’re criticising a child, it’s the other way around – criticise their behaviour and not their character, and include a positive affirmation: “That was a mean thing to do! You’re a kind person, you know to do better”.

Research shows that any behaviour that is reinforced is more likely to be repeated, and behaviours that are repeated become habits. And of course, it is our habits that form how we see ourselves – our identity.

Key takeaways

If someone’s been kind to you, you’re more likely to be kind to someone else.

If you’ve just been kind to someone, you feel good and you’re more likely to be kind again – especially if you track your own kindness.

If you see even one act of kindness, it boosts your wellbeing.

Kindness in the workplace, at schools and at home, has a positive impact on the culture of each of these environments.

Kindness is not some kind of panacea to all ills, that will fix all the problems in the world (or in your life). However, kindness has proven benefits to everyone involved, and acts of kindness ripple outwards.

If you can’t imagine being kind or anyone being kind to you, there’s a possibility that you’re depressed. Reach out to a licensed mental health professional to get help – it’s important to talk to somebody.

If you cultivate kindness at home or at work, or just in your community, share your kindness story with me in the comments or via email! I’d love to hear from you.