If there was one thing you could do daily that could have a tremendous impact on your health, your mood, your relationships, your work, and your overall quality of life, even during these very unprecedented, difficult times, would you do it? What if this simple act didn’t cost any money or require a prescription or any special training or skillset to do? Sound too good to be true? Well, thankfully it is not. The act of kindness, “a type of behavior marked by acts of generosity, consideration, or concern for others without having an expectation of praise or reward”  has scientific evidence proving its positive impact on health and happiness. Kindness isn’t something new or innovative. And furthermore, anyone can be kind. It doesn’t matter how old you are, your race, your gender, your income, or your occupation. Could kindness be one small antidote we could all give and receive as we move ahead?
2020 was hard. And to many, that is an understatement. No matter your lifestyle, income, gender, race, political affiliation or zip code, the global pandemic, civil unrest, natural disasters [fires, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes], recession, and political divide have hit every single American, some in very personal, hard ways. Between the nationwide lockdown cancelling life events ranging from weddings, funerals, graduations, and vacations to completely cancelling school, sports, concerts, summer Olympics, Halloween, and many other traditional events, 2020 will certainly go down in history as having an impact on life more significant than most of us have ever experienced.
The rollercoaster of emotions from fear to frustration that we have all felt during this period is common to all. To help people build resilience, there have been many articles published about how to handle stress during these unprecedented times. Articles on how to manage depression and isolation with tips on how to improve virtual relationships and connect with your support network to reduce loneliness. Articles on how to create balance in our blended work from home/remote school structure and recommendations on how to help maintain focus and reduce burnout. How to find peace during such uncertainty as virtually every daily routine that we’ve come accustomed to has been impacted. There are meaningful insights and good tips in those messages, many of which I practice myself. Some techniques may work for you, whereas different techniques may work for others. But one thing I have seen work for all, time and time again, is kindness. Kindness to yourself and kindness to others.
The Power of Kindness: Your Health and Life
Being kind, to yourself and to others, has been proven to have positive benefits to your health. Dr. Waguih William Ishak from Cedars-Sinai has concluded that performing random acts of kindness releases the hormone dopamine, which signals a euphoric feeling to the brain. And according to Dr. David Hamilton, “committing acts of kindness lowers blood pressure.”  One study demonstrated that after just one month of performing an ack of kindness each day, people who were highly anxious had a significant increase in relationship satisfaction and positive moods and a decrease in social anxiety. 
Further details on how kindness can increase energy, happiness, love, pleasure, and lifespan while also decreasing blood pressure, pain, stress, anxiety, and depression can be found in this fact sheet.
To gain the benefits of kindness, it starts with yourself. Do you treat yourself kindly? Do you speak gently and kindly to yourself and take good care of yourself? Turn down that inner critic or worry-wart in your head, the one telling you unkind messages or the one putting you through an endless game of “what if…”. As you do, you will begin to notice that you feel better and with that internal frustration or turmoil turned down, its simply easier to be kind to others.
The Power of Kindness: A Ripple Effect
We have all heard the statement, “Kindness is contagious.” There is a large body of evidence that reveals the more someone participates in kindness, whether they perform a kind act, receive kindness from another, or simply witness kindness, the happier they are. What’s even more interesting is researchers discovered that while being kind to someone you know or to yourself makes a positive impact, offering a kind gesture to even a stranger has an equally positive effect on happiness. 
With the stay-at-home orders and social restrictions implemented, and with many people working from a virtual location, the office watercooler talk and in-person meetings have been eliminated or reduced.
This new environment makes it harder to express kindness in a digital, Zoomified format. Interpersonal gestures and niceties have seemly been pushed aside with the loss of or limited in-person social interactions. The safety measures of wearing a mask and keeping a six-foot distance are a kind gesture and helpful in reducing the spread of the virus, but they are having a negative impact on our ability to visually demonstrate a connection with others and offer warm, kind affection. Masks cover our ability to share a smile with a friend or a stranger you may pass on the street. Distancing has eliminated the handshake or hug greeting. Therefore, we will need to think outside the box on ways to offer affection to people and practice kindness.
For those at home with a partner, being together 24-7 can be very hard. The personal space offered by work or other social events provides a healthy break. For your own mood and for more harmony in your partnership, practice being kind. And since we know that more kindness leads to more kindness, you can work to strengthen that muscle with daily practice. “Research has shown that kindness is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage.” 
During these unpredictable and challenging times, actively practice kindness and assume the positive. I don’t mean allow someone to be abusive or disrespectful. But assuming the positive – or assuming the reason a co-worker was particularly sharp during a meeting or a server was rude or even worse the person standing behind you in line was making nasty comments, could be because of their own turmoil they are dealing with. Or it could be because they are simply not that kind, yet. Maybe they haven’t had people in their life who are really that kind. Whatever the case, it really doesn’t matter, because your offering a kind gesture to that person, even when you feel they might not even deserve it, will likely, in most all cases, result in a positive outcome, for you and the person.
We must try harder. And the thing is, its not even hard to be kind. I challenge you to share an act of kindness, every day. And as you do, notice the impact each simple gesture can have on your mood, your health, your relationships, and your outlook on the world around you. Need some ideas? The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, a small nonprofit that invests resources into making kindness the norm, has a website devoted to kindness ideas as well as many other school and workplace resources https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas.
No matter what’s happening in the world, no matter how dire our financial circumstances may be, no matter how stressed out we may be because of COVID or natural disasters, or how different we each may think about the racial upheaval or how opposite our political views…we can all be kind.
Call to action: Pause to think about ways you can infuse kindness in to your life- it may just positively impact your quality of life.
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Originally published at www.whartonhealthcare.org
- (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 14 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindness
- Hamilton, D. R. (2017). The five side effects of kindness: This book will make you feel better, be happier & live longer. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House. ISBN-10 : 1781808139
- Jennifer L. Trew, Lynn E. Alden. (2015) Kindness reduces avoidance goals in socially anxious individuals. Motivation and Emotion, 39, 892-907. DOI: 1007/s11031-015-9499-5
- Rowland, L., & Curry, O. S. (2019). A range of kindness activities boost happiness. The Journal of Social Psychology, 159(3), 340–343. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224545.2018.1469461
- Emily Esfahani Smith (2014). Masters of Love Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity. Retrieved 14 September 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/happily-ever-after/372573/