The recent tragic death of Caroline Flack inspired a significant increase in the hashtag #BeKind, no doubt motivated by her Instagram post from December in which she wrote: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
The outbreak of COVID-19 across the world, and the unparalleled turmoil caused to individuals, organisations and society in general seems so far to have been characterised by stories of people emptying supermarket shelves or arguing over packets of loo rolls. Whilst this paints a bleak picture of human nature, there are also many acts of kindness inspiring thousands of others, such as a charity that supplies essential toiletries to people in poverty, people organising food drops and phone calls to the housebound, shops opening early for the elderly, and sending contact details with offers of help to neighbours.
What inspires these random acts of kindness? What impact do they have on the receiver, and more intriguingly, how does it make the giver of the act of kindness feel?
Kindness is a behavioural response of compassion, and actions that are selfless; or a mindset that places compassion for others before one’s own interests. In performing the selfless act, a person may undercut their own selfish interests. As we have seen in the news from recent behaviours, kindness is a value that is often disregarded. Why is kindness so undervalued? Is it because kind people are viewed as “enablers” by some, or worse, as “walkovers” by the cynical?
The cynic’s view reflects a belief system that success is only achieved through stepping on or ignoring others. And yet, this sceptical behaviour rarely results in a sense of self-worth, that feeling of doing something for others that has meaning, worth and value, and it matters in the most profound sense.
In fact, extensive research has shown that kindness is linked inextricably to personal happiness and contentment, at both psychological and spiritual levels. Happy people are kinder than people who are not happy. Studies reveal that one’s sense of happiness is increased by the simple act of counting the number of one’s acts of kindness. Counting one’s acts of kindness also leads happy people to become more kind and grateful.
Why? Because kindness can promote gratitude and when you are kind to others in need, having that awareness heightens the sense of your own good fortune. Kindness promotes empathy and compassion, which in turn, leads to a sense of interconnectedness with others. When you feel connected with others, you lessen alienation and you enhance the sense that we are more similar than dissimilar in our experiences, and this connection strengthens a sense of community and belonging.
Furthermore, when we practice random acts of kindness, physiologically it can release neurochemicals that result in a sense of well-being. In fact, the neural circuits that are involved in chemical “highs” are the same ones activated by kindness and compassion. Dopamine, serotonin, and endogenous opioids are released by kind behaviour, which can reduce pain, and bonds between those who are kind to one another are strengthened from the release of oxytocin.
So, what ‘random’ acts of kindness are you thinking about? What impact will these have on others? How will this help you to #BeKind to yourself?