For the past few months, I have been researching what physically happens to our bodies when we are kind and the response it has on our brain and our bodies. It is quite a fascinating rabbit hole to go down and I will share the highlights here in today’s blog. I am not a doctor, have no medical training, but I have researched this topic, find it fascinating and am summarizing what I have learned.
Pros to being kind to others and yourself: improves self-esteem, increases your mood, builds connection and empathy towards others, decreases blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety, boosts serotonin and dopamine in the brain
Cons to being kind to others and yourself: NOTHING. You will not be negatively impacted at all when you are kind. There will be no negative effects to your body when you are kind others or kind to yourself.
One line in my upcoming book, The Kindness Machine, is “kindness is contagious.” This isn’t a new concept, we know that kindness spreads easily. However, hate and anger spread just as easily. Research tells us that kindness is taught. It is taught through modeling and what young children see the adults in their lives do. Children learn not just through what they hear adults say, but what they see them doing as well. It’s wonderful if you remind your children to be kind, but they have to see you in action being kind to others and to yourself. Examples of modeling that have a big impact on forming kind actions include: driving in a car and the way you speak to other drivers, how you speak to waitstaff in a restaurant/drive-through, and how you speak to your neighbors or people in your community.
Is kindness always easy? No. Are there times when we get frustrated, annoyed and angry? Of course. We are human and we have to accept and understand that we have a wide range of emotions. What matters is our reaction to some of these strong feelings. There is a big push to teach children to name their feeling and then work on a strategy to handle that feeling. Example: “I am feeling mad because someone took my toy. I can take 5 deep breaths.” I am not delusional…I know that a lot of times this is easier said than done. It is a process that takes time. Even as adults, reflect on what you do when you are mad. I try really hard to take a few deep breaths and reset.
Being kind is often a choice. I encourage you to try to start each day with kindness. Start by being kind to yourself. Give yourself a compliment and be thankful for the day. Find a moment for gratitude and then be on the lookout for ways you can continue to be kind to yourself and then be kind to others. These kindness gestures do not have to be grand, but rather small and meaningful. According to Dr. Richard Davidson, the more we practice kindness, the more we “build our compassion muscle.” I LOVE this idea of looking at kindness, compassion and empathy as a muscle we have to work out and train. We train our bodies to be strong and healthy for a sport or overall wellness. If we have the same attitude towards our kindness muscles, maybe then we can mindfully spend time improving it.
I will add one small caveat: Don’t walk around spouting kindness every other word/phrase. We all know those people who are OVERLY complimentary that you start to wonder if it’s authentic. Not every moment is a rainbow and unicorn moment. My dad is a horticulturalist. My mom, sister and I grew up with his discussions of flowers, watering, weeding, etc. This next part is for my dad in garden terms: Sprinkle kindness consistently so that you don’t flood the garden. By carefully watering a garden you help properly give the plants what they need. If you forget about them for a week and then flood the garden, you really don’t have much chance bringing it all back to life. If I say or do nothing kind all week and then bombard everyone around me on Sunday with a kindness super storm, no one is going to be buying what I’m selling.
So what do you say? Kindness helps our bodies, mental health and overall wellness. This seems like another perfect reason to choose kindness today and everyday.
Have a great week and be kind!