When was the last time you experienced kindness? It may have been a thoughtful word, a smile, an act of generosity, or simply holding the door open for someone or having it held open for you. The beauty in kindness is that whether you are the giver or the receiver, it feels good, and the gestures need not be grand to be effective.
An example of kindness that comes to my mind immediately is the support I received from countless strangers during my 2,800-mile hike from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide Trail last summer. My journey was so much richer thanks to the individuals who gave me rides into town to resupply, purchased meals for me, and even invited me into their homes for a warm shower and a bed. These moments of consideration and generosity from strangers are some of the most powerful memories I have from that entire experience. Those acts of kindness inspired me to keep going when times were tough and to do my part to ‘pay it forward.’
Kindness is an integral part of humanity. In fact, it shows up as a core tenet of nearly every major religion. In Judaism, for example, Leviticus 19.18 states “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In Buddhism, the Metta prayer is a wish for all beings to be happy, safe, peaceful, and free. The Dalai Lama stated “My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.” There are countless examples across every culture demonstrating the importance of kindness.
Health Benefits of Kindness
Kindness doesn’t just feel good. Research indicates that there are a myriad of health benefits for the giver, the receiver, and even the observer. Both witnessing and performing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone.” Increased oxytocin lowers blood pressure and increases self esteem.
Being kind to others also increases the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction, well being, and calmness. Furthermore, acts of kindness reduce pain via the production of endorphins, the brain’s natural painkillers. As if all of that weren’t enough, kindness also reduces the stress hormone cortisol, the overproduction of which is associated with a variety of health ailments.
Increased Connection to Others
Kindness increases empathy, helps us relate to others, and allows us to form more positive relationships. Practicing kindness has the transformational power to flip any situation upside down. For instance, if you’ve failed to reach a personal goal, kindness allows you to forgive yourself and to try again. In a professional setting, it allows you to see another’s perspective and to move forward with compassion in challenging circumstances.
Kindness is a muscle that strengthens with practice. I invite you to make it an intentional part of each day. Here are some ideas to get you started: practice loving kindness meditation, perform a random act of kindness, make a donation, smile at a stranger, call a loved one, volunteer your time, buy someone a coffee. Small gestures can make a big impact. Finally, don’t forget that kindness practiced towards oneself is just as important as kindness given to others.
World Kindness Day is November 13, so it’s a great time to go out of your way to give kindness towards others and towards yourself, but with all these benefits, why not treat every day like World Kindness Day?
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