We all know how good it feels to be kind, that glow of happiness after helping out a neighbor, that rush of feel-good hormones after making a donation to a charity or spending time assisting at the soup kitchen. But it’s looking more and more likely now that simple acts of kindness not only make you feel good, they could also be helping your health to an extent that may actually increase your lifespan. This is according to recent studies by scientists and academics at UCLA’s Bedari Kindness Institute.
Whilst some still see kindness as signs of weakness, the science behind it has started to fascinate and stir up surprising headlines. Researchers are looking at the psychology and biology of positive social interactions and are finding fascinating results. Kindness is a broader concept and more powerful than most people realize. It can be defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate to others. Four simple acts of kindness that have shown huge benefits to the instigator are:
1/ Listening to people.
In this context we mean really listening, not assuming that you already know what they are going to say or what they mean. Listen to their words without judgment, try to really understand what they are saying whilst looking at their body language. When listening, you have to forget your preconceptions, you have to imagine being in their situation and forget about your own agenda and your own issues. To be a true act of kindness, you need to show the person that you are valuing them and their point of view. Eye contact and your own body language will show how much attention you are truly giving them and therefore how wanted, loved, valued and noticed they feel.
2/ Responding to other people’s rudeness with friendliness.
It is easy to reciprocate rudeness but the kinder response is to consider that that person has a reason for their bad mood. You can be considerate, rise above the usual tit-for-tat response and be kind to a person who may be going through a very difficult time. The person who lost their temper in the queue at the supermarket could have a sick or dying member of the family to care for. They could be suffering from an invisible but painful disease, or recently bereaved. Take a moment to consider this and respond with thoughtfulness, gentleness and respectful courtesy.
3/ Including someone who seems to be excluded.
It happens all the time in social and business events – someone is often left out and left sitting on the sidelines. It can happen to all of us but it is more likely to occur to someone who is introverted or lacking social confidence. And the longer they are left out, the more difficult it is for them to include themselves in the social circle. It is a lovely act of kindness to gently and respectfully (without making them feel awkward) include that person and help insert them into the conversation or social interaction from which they are being excluded.
4/ Not reacting to someone else’s unkindness.
This is probably the most difficult of all. It helps to continually remind yourself that other people’s actions are not necessarily about you, that you have no control over their actions and the only thing you can control is your reaction. Breathing deeply and walking away can be an act of kindness in itself.
The concept of kindness extends further of course than these examples. True kindness has us being compassionate and benevolent to those who we actively dislike. Being kind to our loved ones is, after all, a rather easy accomplishment, but the idea is to be kind to everyone, no matter what. Yes, even to those we find unlikeable, and that’s where the really good effects come in to play.
The act of witnessing other’s kindness is also interesting as it often motivates further kindness. One could say that it’s contagious in the best possible way. As conflict seems to be on the rise in our day to day lives, often based on intolerance of differences in religion, politics, and race, the concept of kindness has never been more important. Trolling on the Internet is on the rise, anonymity leading to more aggression and less valuing of others’ feelings and well-being. These feelings and actions are actively bad for a person’s health, raising blood pressure and increasing the risk of stroke and other stress-related illnesses. Kindness is the antidote to all of this. The hormones released during and after acts and thoughts of kindness have been shown to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure and thus truly change our physiology and, as a consequence, our well-being and potential lifespan.
Simple acts of kindness are truly that – simple – and yet it seems that with their powerful psychological and sociological effects, they can truly change our bodies, our minds and the entire world around us.
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