Promoting, sharing and uniting kindness
Kindness and Wellbeing
By Dr Emma Short - @dr_emmashort
Kindness and Wellbeing – 17th May 2020

‘In a world where you can be anything, be kind.’ Jennifer Dukes Lee

Kindness is all around us. Sometimes we just need to make the effort to look for it. More importantly, we should all make a conscious endeavour to be kind. To other people, to ourselves and to the world.

For many individuals, life is hard. There is a widening gap between the rich and the poor in the United Kingdom (UK). The use of food banks has risen by a dramatic 73% over the last five years, with an estimated one in fifty households visiting a foodbank between 2018-20191, 2. One in four people will experience a mental health problem each year3, and statistics show that rates of loneliness have significantly increased over the last decade4. Despite the widespread use of the internet and social media, which theoretically enhances connectivity around the world, levels of community cohesion are low, and one in eight adults describe themselves as having no close friends5.

Work is often a source of stress and unhappiness for many individuals, and the World Health Organisation now recognises burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ characterised by feelings of exhaustion, negativity, cynicism and reduced efficacy6. Modern life places many demands on our time, and it can be difficult to juggle all our commitments, creating feelings of stress and anxiety.

What the world needs now, more than ever, is for people to be kind. To show each other compassion and warmth. To bring happiness and joy to others. To do what benefits society and promotes the best interests of all around us.

What is Kindness?
There are many different definitions of kindness. The Cambridge Dictionary describes it as the quality of being generous, helpful and caring about other people, or an act showing this quality7. According to the Macmillan Dictionary, the word is derived from the old English word ‘kyndes’ and the Middle English word ‘kindenes’ and has its origins in ‘nation, produce, increase, noble deeds, courtesy’8. The great Greek philosopher, Aristotle, wrote that kindness is ‘helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped’ 9. Kindness is at the core of most of the world’s religions.

In its simplest form, kindness is characterised by behaviours which are performed in a selfless manner to improve the well-being of others and of the world.

Some scientists believe that it was kindness which primed the human species for language development. When early humans started to prefer cooperative friends and mates to aggressive ones, they started to become ‘tamer’. This was associated with the evolution of a variety of physical and biochemical characteristics which were essential for language formation10.

Kindness can be recognised by babies as young as six months old. Research has shown that infants take into consideration an individual’s actions towards others in evaluating that individual as appealing or aversive11. Babies prefer people who help others compared to those who hinder others or are neutral11. This capacity may play a role in forming the foundations of moral behaviours, and its occurrence at such an early stage in life supports the notion that social evaluation is a biological adaptation11.

Being Kind is Good for You
Acts of kindness benefit everyone – the ‘giver’, the ‘receiver’ and society as a whole. Research has shown that the performance of selfless acts may have positive heath benefits. A study looking at 1 790 adults aged between 57 and 85 reported that those who participated in voluntary activities had lower levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) in their blood12. CRP is an indicator of inflammation and is associated with chronic diseases such as hypertension, stroke and heart disease. Volunteering has also been linked to positive well-being, reduced symptoms of depression, improved self-ratings of health and better control of blood pressure reviewed in 12.

The significant and positive effects of kindness can impact many domains of life: practising kindness has been found to reduce social anxiety, it is associated with respect from others and may even reduce the severity and duration of the common cold13. In one study, 142 individuals with social anxiety were randomly assigned to conditions of performing kind acts, conditions to reduce negative affect/ mood or were in a control group. After four weeks, the group performing kind acts were reported to have experienced significant increases in positive affect/ mood, to have improved relationship satisfaction and reduced social-avoidance14.

Kindness also has a role to play in spending habits and well-being. Both children and adults who purchase goods for others, or give treats away, experience greater happiness than when they receive products themselves, illustrating the hedonic benefits of generosity15, 16.

Whilst self-care and self-kindness are fundamental components of well-being, interestingly, it has been shown that prosocial or kind behaviours towards others result in greater increases in psychological flourishing than do self-focussed behaviours, meaning that to boost mood it is important for people to treat others well as well as themselves17.

In the Healthcare System, kindness has been described as ‘an essential ingredient…because the emotion experienced by individuals when giving or receiving kindness can provide the necessary courage to take action’18. Kindness is associated with increased levels of the ‘feel good’ chemical dopamine, which plays a role in the experience of pleasure, reward and in motivation.

Implementing Kindness: The Ripple Effect
Some individuals seem to have an inherent desire and ability to be kind to others, it comes as second nature without conscious thought. This is likely the result of an incredibly complex interaction between their genetics, the social environment they grew up in and their current life situation. For other people, kindness isn’t an innate part of their being and it takes effort to perform kind behaviours. Kind acts do not need to be big, complicated or extravagant. It is often the ‘small’ behaviours which can make a difference to someone else. For those who are not ‘naturally kind’ people, it can be helpful to begin with simple acts such as offering to make someone a cup of tea, holding a door open, checking in on a friend or merely letting someone know that you appreciate them.

The wonderful thing about kindness is that is has a ‘ripple effect’ – the recipient of a kind act is likely to ‘pass it on’, so the spread of warmth and positive wellbeing is enhanced. Research has shown that individuals who receive acts of kindness experience higher levels of happiness than controls, and that they are nearly three times more likely to engage in prosocial acts than others19. It is evident that both givers and receivers benefit from kindness, and the effects may be long-lived. One paper reported that following a kindness intervention, there are short-term improvements in wellbeing, for example in parameters such as autonomy and competence, but even two months after the intervention has ended, receivers still continue to experience happiness and givers may be less depressed and more satisfied with their jobs and their lives19. Practising kindness is emotionally reinforcing and contagious19.

In additional to practising kindness towards others, it is important to recognise, acknowledge and to be grateful when you receive acts of kindness. It is all too easy to take kind acts for granted, but reflection on, and appreciation of, kindness can further increase psychological wellbeing and emotional resilience.

Kindness describes behaviours which are performed in a selfless manner to improve the well-being of others and of the world. Kindness has allowed the human species to evolve and has significant positive effects for the giver, the receiver and for society. Kindness can have a positive impact on a vast range of physical and psychological parameters, including blood pressure, depressive symptoms, emotional well-being and levels of anxiety. Most importantly, being kind spreads joy to others, and we should all strive to be the light wherever there is darkness.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
The 14th Dalai Lama

Kindness challenge:
Make a conscious effort to perform 50 kind acts over the next 3 months and to recognise and appreciate kindness directed towards you. Think broadly – donate items to a food bank, visit an elderly relative, surprise someone with a bunch of flowers, volunteer with a charity or send a handwritten letter to an old friend. It can be helpful to record the kind acts you have received, either in a journal or on slips of paper in a jar, so that they can serve as a reminder to you of the good in the world.

We’d love to hear about your activities and to see you spreading love – please share and tag us! @dr_emmashort
#50actsofkindness #kindness #kindnessrevolution

9) Aristotle (translated by Lee Honeycutt). Kindness. Rhetoric, Book 2, Chapter 7. Archived from the original on December 13, 2004.
10) Erard M and Matacie C (2018) Did Kindness Prime our Species for Language? Science 361(6401): 436-437
11) Hamlin JK et al (2007). Social evaluation by preverbal infants Nature 22:450(7169):557-559
12) Kim SK and Ferraro KF (2013) Do Productive Activities Reduce Inflammation in Later Life? Multiple Roles, Frequency of Activities and C-Reactive Protein The Gerontologist 54(5): 830-839
14) Alden LE and Trew JL (2013) If it makes you happy: engaging in kind acts increases positive affect in socially anxious individuals Emotion 13(1):64-75
16) Dunn EW et al (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science 29:324(5931):1143
17) Nelson ST et al (2016). Do unto others or treat yourself? The effects of prosocial and self-focused behaviour on psychological flourishing Emotion 16(6): 850-61
18) Klaber RE and Bailey S (2019) Kindness: an underrated currency BMJ 367:I6099
19) Chancellor et al (2017). Everyday prosociality in the workplace: The reinforcing benefits of giving, getting and glimpsing Emotion

Share your thoughts and comments on kindness

security code

Please enter the code: