Psychology Of Kindness

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Lawrence R. Samuel 

Research shows that being kind is good for one’s physical and mental health. There is anecdotal evidence that kindness is gaining social currency. Greater recognition of the potential value of kindness may benefit the lives of many. Common wisdom dictates that kindness — the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate — is an altruistic act, meaning for the benefit of others. This is true, of course, as we all know the feeling when someone else does something that makes us happy. Being kind in some way, however, also benefits the individual who expresses kindness to others, both mentally and physically.

A 2018 study found that acts of generosity elevated the level of happiness and lowered the blood pressure of the kindness giver. Even small acts of kindness such as holding the door for a stranger, petting an animal, or buying coffee for a colleague can have a positive impact on an individual. Most amazing, perhaps, simply observing or recalling “prosocial behaviour” toward friends, strangers, and oneself have been shown to increase well-being. Being kind is good for one’s mind and body. One's self-esteem can be boosted when being helpful, generous, or considerate, and one’s mood improved as cortisol, a hormone correlated with stress levels, is released. Serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that produce feelings of satisfaction and well-being, have also been shown to be released when committing a random or not-so-random act of kindness.

Happily, so to speak, more people around the world appear to be recognising the benefits of kindness and are taking steps to spread the word. The World Kindness Movement, a not-for-profit with no political, commercial, or religious affiliation that has been around for more than 25 years, continues to gain members. The organisation’s mission is to “inspire individuals towards greater kindness by connecting nations to create a kinder world,” with members ranging from Australia to Zimbabwe. Despite all of the world’s problems, or perhaps in reaction to them, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the value of kindness is gaining social currency. 

“Be Kind” t-shirts have become fashionable, and “kindness campaigns” have been launched at many schools in the United States. As well, a good number of companies have adopted kindness in their mission statements or are featuring the word in their advertising, embedding the value within consumer culture. Why has kindness become popular? Like its altruistic siblings, empathy and compassion, kindness relies on putting oneself in another person’s shoes, making it a demonstration of selflessness. More than that, however, an act of kindness is an effort to somehow improve the life of another individual, which one might suggest represents humanity at its best. In short, kindness serves as a reminder that we are indelibly bound together as a species. 

Extending that logic, adopting a philosophy of and approach to life simply around being kind can be a powerful source of well-being for oneself and others, an important concept that can potentially benefit all our lives. Given all this, perhaps it’s time we retire the concept of IQ, which still plays an important role in work and educational settings. Rather than measure one’s Intelligence Quotient to help determine who should get promoted or placed into gifted programmes, in other words, maybe we should assign more weight to an individual’s KQ, or Kindness Quotient. Values like kindness, empathy, and compassion present the greater opportunity to make the world a better place, and we should do whatever we can to help cultivate those qualities.

- Psychology Today

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