Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those bits of good put together that overwhelm the world ~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1931-2021)
What we had hoped would be a feel-good February began with the sun making a very welcome return, followed by Children's Mental Health Week, which we at KI hold very dear to our hearts. Many of us would have also heard about Random Act of Kindness Day on the 17th of this month. Here at KI, one of our 6 core values is being ‘thoughtful and kind’, and I can attest to the fact that my wonderful colleagues emulate this daily! Indeed wellbeing can differ significantly situationally, and from person to person. The vast majority of us have grown up hearing the phrase ‘be kind, everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about’, and in light of the pandemic, and especially in light of the current atrocities being spearheaded by Russia, it is evident that the world certainly needs kindness now more than ever.
Specialising in positive psychology really opened my eyes to the realm of mental wellness, which isn’t simply the absence of mental illness, but rather the presence of positive emotion and optimal functioning. According to Lyubomirsky et al. (2005), it is theorised that we can attribute about 50% of our happiness to our genetic make-up, and around 10% to external factors, none of which we can control. The remaining 40%, however, is determined by our mindset and dependent on our intentional actions, which we very much can control.. So how do acts of kindness affect our happiness and wellbeing?
Kindness comes in all shapes and forms, acts large or small, but what is it that drives us to be this way? Social psychologists have long studied pro-social behaviour, and have found many benefits associated with altruistic acts. In a study conducted by Cosley et al. (2010), it was found that those shown social support and compassion displayed lower blood pressure and lower cortisol levels compared to a control group, thereby buffering the participant’s overall stress response. So it benefits us physiologically when other people are kind toward us! What I found really surprising however, is that research also shows that acts of self-compassion are extremely effective in reducing physiological signs of stress, reducing instances of depression and contributing to overall physical health (Friis et.al, 2016). It could be suggested that these physiological health advantages provide a biological explanation for kindness.
So what happens when we extend good deeds and kind gestures to others? Well, studies have shown that acts of kindness toward strangers, loved ones, and yourself all have an equally positive impact on happiness and mental wellbeing (Rowland & Curry, 2019). Research also suggests that kindness is so powerful, in fact, that just recalling a time that you did something kind has the same wellbeing benefits as performing the act itself (Ko et al., 2021). Whatever way you look at it, being compassionate and considerate fosters positive emotions, which has benefits for all parties!
In 2012 Dr Martin Seligman (the founding father of Positive Psychology) developed the ‘PERMA’ model which he believes contributes to overall wellbeing. This model is made up of the 5 key pillars: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. Altruism plays a big part in achieving meaning, and indeed kindness works to facilitate every aspect of the PERMA model, as well as being an important factor in both optimism and resilience.
Kindness is certainly very valuable, and is identified as one of 24 core character strengths that a person can possess. The VIA character strengths survey was developed by Dr Seligman along with Dr Christopher Peterson in order to help identify and utilise our strengths to achieve our full potential. Honestly speaking, introspection and self-development has truly been the biggest (ongoing) kindness I’ve ever afforded myself; I highly recommend!
And if you’ve missed Random Act of Kindness Day this year, not to worry! A meta-analysis conducted by Hui et al. (2020) showed that spontaneous or ‘random’ acts of kindness were linked to greater well-being benefits, as compared to scheduled or ‘formal’ acts of kindness - so it is never too late to do something nice for yourself, a loved one, or even a stranger!
All in all, life is too short to NOT be as kind as you can possibly be, both to yourself, and to others.
Cosley, B. J., McCoy, S. K., Saslow, L. R., & Epel, E. S. (2010). Is compassion for others stress buffering? Consequences of compassion and social support for physiological reactivity to stress. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46(5), 816-823.
Friis, A. M., Johnson, M. H., Cutfield, R. G., & Consedine, N. S. (2016). Kindness matters: a randomized controlled trial of a mindful self-compassion intervention improves depression, distress, and HbA1c among patients with diabetes. Diabetes care, 39(11), 1963-1971.
Hui, B. P., Ng, J. C., Berzaghi, E., Cunningham-Amos, L. A., & Kogan, A. (2020). Rewards of kindness? A meta-analysis of the link between prosociality and well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 146(12), 1084.
Ko, K., Margolis, S., Revord, J., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2021). Comparing the effects of performing and recalling acts of kindness. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 16(1), 73-81.
Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of general psychology, 9(2), 111-131.
Rowland, L., & Curry, O. S. (2019). A range of kindness activities boost happiness. The Journal of social psychology, 159(3), 340-343.
Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Simon and Schuster.