Practice kindness in your everyday life? Why should I be kind when others aren’t? Will it matter and make a difference in the world full of angry and indifferent people? I was asked these questions by a very bright 18 year old girl who undergoes therapy for body dysmorphic disorder and depression. My answers: “Sure it will! And it will make a difference for you and for others!” We had a long conversation and my therapy client left the session feeling a little bit better about herself and the world.
In this post I will talk about the importance of practicing kindness and show how simple it is to develop kindness in you.
Barbra Fredrickson, a psychology professor at the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill is known for her “Broaden and build” model of Positive Emotions. She stated that positive emotions serve a higher purpose in our lives – not just to feel good – by increasing our scope of action-thinking in terms of widening our physical, cognitive and social resources and responses. Her theory also stated that we can “store and build up” positive emotions, by creating around us a spiral of upwards positivity. Meaning the more positive energy you send out, the more likely you are to attract others that issue the same type of “energy frequency”.
But more than that, have you noticed how some people just seem to infect you with their positive energy? As if they made it more difficult to feel unhappy around them? Kindness as the positive emotion it is, can serve that contagious purpose just as well. Positive emotions also help you build up resilience.
Everyday kindness or spreading the love
We humans are social creatures and one of the worst feelings to have in life is definitely the feeling of loneliness. Especially when surrounded by others. I always remember that is the feeling some elderly patients describe, when they start to lose their roots and everyone they’ve met seems to be gone and no-one acknowledges them because they’re old and forgotten. They really appreciate every small act of kindness somebody does for them. Opening a door, offering to carry their shopping bags, stopping traffic so they could cross the road, smiling at them.
I think this is one of the best examples of the impact small acts kindness can have on someone else’s life mainly because of the sense of vulnerability we have either as a small child or when we grow older. You may not believe but those are the acts that make a difference in someone life beyond a short term positive emotion. I always remember one of my patients who was severely depressed remember with great fondness the night a friend called just to say hi a few moments before she was going to commit suicide.
But you don’t have to wait for extreme measures to be kind to someone. Just offering a shoulder to cry on or listening to a friend who’s a bit down will go a long way. And truly make a difference in another human being’s life.
A few steps into kindness (until it becomes spontaneous and natural for you)
- Small things, big impacts. This is something to remember. You may not be prepared to contribute the money in order to prevent your friend’s house from foreclosure but you can offer a shoulder to cry on or offer to accompany your friend while he’s looking for a way out.
- Give someone a smile. Have you ever stood in the supermarket check-out line and the register suddenly decides to go crazy? Instead of being angry at the clerk because you’re running late why not smile comprehensively? After all, technology decides to fail when we need it the most and it happens to all of us…
- Offer help. Can I help you with anything? This is a wonder question. Even if the person declines your help, they will surely feel appreciative of your concern and care.
- Make people feel good. With themselves and especially around you. Is it really that hard to compliment someone for their hair? (This absolutely works and does wonders for women!)
- Do something for another person without expecting anything back. This is a true act of kindness. And this is the only way it can actually work.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ovizo0n/1729734080