‘Only people who are happy can be kind,’ said a friend once, rather cynically I thought, as we watched passers-by drop money into a homeless man’s cap. Is it true, I wondered, are we only kind when we are feeling happy?
Turns out it’s more circular than straightforward.
There’s so much going on in our lives, with stress and strain everywhere, embellished, of course, by the media. Petrol prices have gone up so much the last time I filled up I nearly slid under the car in shock. I can only imagine how the average family is managing with rising utility bills and food prices. It must be pretty worrying- and a mind stretched with bills’ deadlines doesn’t have much room to be kind to others.
But the way out of stress and strain is doing acts of kindness, according to a raft of studies. Kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, and improve mood. Being kind can reduce blood pressure and cortisol – the stress hormone which raises stress levels. Kindness increases your sense of being connected to others and belonging, which in turn impacts on loneliness, lifts mood and enhances relationships in general. Looking for ways to be kind gives you a positive focus, especially if you tend to be anxious or stressed in some situations.
Kindness brings positive changes to your brain. Being kind boosts serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters in the brain that give feelings of satisfaction and well-being. The pleasure/reward centres in your brain light up. Endorphins, which are your body’s natural painkillers, are also released: your neurones are bathed in happy hormones.
From experience, I can give an example of how it works. After years in the Middle East I was a protective and competitive driver. Taking an advanced driving course with the IAM taught me how to ’parent’ the road, looking out for other drivers, anticipating their challenges and making way for them. Now it feels really good to let someone join the queue in front of me instead of giving them the evil eye. I’m positively benign on the roads these days, even on the M25 in rush hour.
NO wonder the Scriptures say that it is more blessed to give than receive!
Be kind to yourself
As well as being kind to other people, you need to be kind to yourself. In your own self talk, be kind and practice gratitude. People are really good at talking negatively to themselves. One commentator says, ‘you wouldn’t talk to your neighbour the way you talk to yourself sometimes!’
The Dalai llama is quoted as saying – ‘be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.’ The Scriptures say, ‘be kind to one another.’ (Ephesians 4:32.) Being kind changes your perspective on life and throws a positive light on your own circumstances.
Christina, a friend, is always looking for ways of being kind. When she goes shopping, she will knock on a neighbour’s door and ask if there’s anything she can get for them. When a neighbour’s rubbish was blown all over her front garden and she had friends coming over, she texted her neighbour to ask if she was all right and did she need help clearing it. She puts the bins back by their owners’ gates after the binmen have thrown them all over the road and pavement.
Other friends sent cards with little notes, as well as phoning or texting. There’s something about receiving a pretty card that’s very special.
During the Pandemic we were blessed by hundreds acts of kindness. The Curry Cafes who took free meals to NHS workers, and the neighbours who dropped cards to others with a phone number to call if they needed help – and countless other acts.
How do we find ways to be kind these days?