Why kindness is important for our mental health
For many, these times are not only unprecedented in terms of the world we are living in but also for the effect it’s all having on us. Mental health concerns are at an all-time high and, throughout lockdown, loneliness is rife. So, what can we do to make the best of it all?
You have a key tool at your disposal, in your toolbox, junk drawer or that old cabinet of random odds and sods. And that tool is kindness.
I browsed the Internet for some formal definitions and my favourite was from Wiki:
Kindness is a type of behaviour marked by acts of generosity, consideration, or concern for others, without having an expectation of praise or reward.
I like this particularly because of the last eight words. True kindness is unconditional, not a bartering system. Now, you might be thinking, ‘Interesting definition, but so what? How do I use that?’
I’m going to give you two quotes. I’d love you to read each and take a moment to think about what they mean to you.
“Kindness is seeing the best in others when they cannot see it in themselves.” – RAKtivist
“When you are kind to others it not only changes you, it changes the world.” – Harold D Kushner
Now, I’m going to be cheeky and rearrange and reword these quotes to show how kindness is a tool you can use. So, for the first one:
Before – Kindness is seeing the best in others when they cannot see it in themselves.
After – Kindness is believing in others who see the best in you when you cannot see it in yourself.
In other words, why should others accept kindness from you if they see you putting yourself down? You should be kind to yourself. Just small, simple acts of kindness can make such a big difference.
- Treat yourself to a posh coffee or tea.
- Treat yourself to a bath or shower if simply getting out of bed is a struggle.
- Start that book you’ve been meaning to read.
- Get outside and walk around the neighbourhood mindfully. Pay attention to your surroundings, the feelings under your feet and the sounds.
I know some people struggle to be kind to themselves. If this is true for you, then perhaps you do need to be kind to others first, which can give you that warm feeling as your reward.
Now, let’s pause and rearrange the emphasis of that second quote.
Before – When you are kind to others it not only changes you, it changes the world.
After – When you are kind to others it not only changes the world, it changes you.
Only a slight change but it creates a big impact on the emphasis. When you are kind to others, it cannot not change you.
If you Google kind acts or random acts of kindness, you’ll find thousands of suggestions. Here are a few of my favourites:
- Smile at a stranger.
- Compliment someone.
- Barter upwards. For example, if you are buying something from a small seller, insist on paying more than their price.
- Give some extra money to the barrister at your favourite coffee shop to cover a drink for someone who they feel needs it later in the day.
- Leave a favourite book somewhere in public with a note giving a review and permission for someone to take it with them and pass on.
- Tell the manager of a colleague at work who’s just done something amazing.
- Hold a door open for someone.
- Let someone in in a traffic jam.
How can doing any of these not change your day for the better?
Let me leave you with a thought about how even the smallest acts of kindness will build and accumulate, and change how you feel about yourself and the world around you.
Imagine that for the rest of your day you had to say “I’m sorry” to every single person you passed, whether you knew them or not. How would you feel by the end of the day? How would all those “I’m sorry’s” add up? I’m guessing you’d probably not be feeling tickety boo and full of the joys of spring.
Now imagine the same scenario but, this time, to each and every person you have to smile at them and say “thank you”. How would you be by the end of the day? I’d imagine it was very different from the first round.
That’s how kindness builds and changes your mood and, therefore, your mental health. After all, we are all kindness billionaires; kindness costs nothing so spend as much as you can.