Take a moment right now to close your eyes and think about kindness, being kind, and what kindness means to you. Now, wherever you feel that kindness, grow it and allow that feeling to get bigger and bigger. Have you got a smile on your face? Do you feel good? Do you want to share the love?
Just thinking about kindness makes us feel good and makes people around us feel good too. Imagine a world where we all practice kindness every day. What a wonderful world we would live in.
BUT WHAT IS KINDNESS?
A quick search will return results defining kindness as a behavior or quality of being towards ourselves and others distinguished by consideration, generosity, concern, and helpfulness without expecting a return.
But that definition seems a little sterile to me. Kindness is so much more than that. Underneath those acts of generosity and consideration is something deeper and far more real.
Human kindness is a channel for universal love. Kindness is love in action. It's a way of expressing that love towards ourselves, our loved ones, and even strangers.
REAL KINDNESS IS OUR NATURE
Human beings are inherently kind and loving. I'm not being selective. Even the most hardened criminals can be seen showing kindness. And when we hear about hardened criminals rescuing a puppy, it stirs something in us.
It warms our hearts and makes us feel joy and compassion. That's because those acts remind us that we are all the same underneath the trials and tribulations of life. Within us all are the qualities of love and compassion, and we're all capable of expressing universal love. Acts of kindness connect us to ourselves and each other.
KINDNESS IS CONTAGIOUS
When we see kindness, it touches our hearts, sparks that love within us, and reminds us of our true nature, which is love. Being brought back to that place of love enables us to act from that place. We respond to kindness with kindness.
This might sound a bit airy fairy to you, but a growing body of research shows us that kindness is contagious. Many experiments have been carried out using different methods to show that we're more inclined to be kind when we witness kindness.
THE SCIENCE OF KINDNESS
In his book, The Contagious Power of Thinking, David Hamilton explains how human emotions can have a chain reaction. Parts of our brain, the Mirror Neuron System (MNS), mirror the facial muscles of those we interact with. This, in turn, causes us to feel the emotions associated with that particular set of muscles, thereby making emotions contagious.
ONE KIND ACT LEADS TO ANOTHER
Kindness researcher, Jamil Zaki, carried out a series of experiments that demonstrates we don't even need to witness kindness to increase our levels of kindness. Instead, believing that other people are kind is enough to stir those deeper qualities of love, compassion, and empathy which stimulates our generosity and kindness.
One kind act creates a ripple of kindness that spreads far beyond our reach. Researchers James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis found that kindness contagion has an R-number of 3. That means that when you act kind towards someone, they will be kind to three more people, and in turn, each of those 3 people will inspire 3 more acts of kindness.
I don't know about you, but I'm inspired to go out and be kind!
THE SPIRIT OF KINDNESS
Much of the research suggests that these ripple effects of kindness are imitation behaviors. But research by Jamil Zaki shows that it is the spirit of kindness that is contagious. The deeper underlying essence of kindness is what touches our hearts, inspires us to share the love, and connects us to others.
PRACTICING KINDNESS EVERYDAY
Imagine a kindness pandemic! These are pretty compelling reasons to practice kindness. It warms my heart just thinking of a world full of kindness.
But kindness doesn't just warm the heart, it's good for heart health too.
Kindness increases our levels of oxytocin, a cardioprotective hormone that decreases blood pressure. In fact, oxytocin, the love hormone, has a ton of benefits for both our physical and mental health.
KINDNESS INCREASES WELLBEING
It's not just the oxytocin that makes us feel good. Kindness is associated with serotonin and dopamine release too. And these three happy hormones reduce stress levels and anxiety, improve mood, increase self-esteem, and generally improve our mental health and wellbeing.
WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE ABOUT KINDNESS?
Despite all the fantastic benefits of kindness, sometimes we're hesitant to act in kind ways. The problem is we never really know how someone will respond to our kind intentions.
And before we have a chance to act, the mind creeps in and doubts arise. Will we be perceived as meddling? Or patronising or interfering?
What stops us is the fear of rejection. No one wants to be rejected when they open their hearts. But the more we practice kindness the less we worry about these things because kindness is contagious.
I CHALLENGE YOU! TAKE COURAGE, KNOWING THAT KINDNESS IS CONTAGIOUS.
You can start with yourself. One of my favourite kindness interventions is a Buddhist meditation called Loving Kindness. We started it at the beginning. Let's continue.
Take a moment to tune into the feelings of kindness just like we did at the beginning. Close your eyes and start to build that feeling of kindness; grow that feeling larger and larger until it fills you. Now direct that kindness towards yourself. You can repeat the words, "May I be happy." Feel the warmth of the kindness in your heart.
Now, direct that kindness toward those you love. Spend a few moments here. You can repeat the mantra "May you be happy" as you hold your loved ones in your thoughts.
Now, with courage, direct that loving kindness towards someone who has hurt or harmed you. You don't need to choose your biggest hurt. A small one will do; someone you may not know very well is a good place to start.
Finally, we'll direct those warm fuzzy feelings of love and warmth toward all beings. We can repeat the mantra, "May all beings be happy."
I hope you are feeling filled with loving kindness now, and your kindness radiates out in unending ripples.
Written by Kirsti Formoso - Wellness Writer for Koraru
Kirsti Formoso is a wellness writer and researcher. She is passionate about holistic health and wellbeing. She has over 30 years of experiential knowledge in personal and spiritual development, and a Masters of Science in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology. She is also a peer reviewer for two scientific journals specialising in Transpersonal Pyschology. When she’s not writing she can be found working on her vegetable plot, hiking in the mountains and breathing in all the wonders nature has to offer.