Imagine if there was a day where everyone could just be kind.
Well, there is! In fact, there’s an entire week!
February 8th marked the beginning of “Random Acts of Kindness” week. Founded by Josh de Jong of New Zealand, it’s a seven-day celebration of kindness. Being kind has proven to positively affect both the recipient and the giver—a winning experience for everyone!
We often think of kindness as small acts toward someone else—paying for the coffee of the patron behind you or filling a stranger’s parking meter. However, let this year’s kindness start within, with self-compassion. When we foster self-compassion, we are innately more kind toward others, allowing for increased positive emotions.
The findings in Kristen Neff’s book Self Compassion, demonstrate the importance of self kindness—psychologists rated how they treated themselves versus how they treated their patients; the ones who were critical and judgmental of themselves acted similarly toward their patients, even if kind words were used.
If we look within and cultivate a deep practice of self-compassion first, we then will have the ability to perform genuine acts of kindness toward others. We are not just self-compassionate for the benefit of ourselves, but so that our students, our colleagues, our families, our communities, and our planet can be happy too. If we begin practicing mindful kindness toward self, it will transmit in an authentic way—and perhaps change the world for the better.
As kindness starts within, we have the awesome potential to directly affect the outcomes of others. For teachers to positively affect their student’s happiness, for doctors to increase patient’s well-being, for us to spark joy in a perfect stranger.
How do we cultivate self-compassion?
Starting with self-care is a good place and that depends on the individual. What relaxes you—a hot bath? What feeds your soul—gardening? What inspires you—reading? Start with more of that.
Another useful tool is “flexible thinking.” This is when we take a rigid thought like “I will never be able to do it” and turn it into a flexible thought like, “I might be able to do it.” Our suffering is created when we forget our connection to the whole and let self-doubt sink in. Seeing through the lens of self-compassion, it is easier to drop our attachments to a certain ideal and recognize our intrinsic oneness. That all humans are flawed and that we are all in this together.
Darwin’s well-known Theory of Evolution lends itself to the phrase “survival of the fittest”—yet, researcher and psychology professor, Dacher Keltner thinks Darwin would have called it, “survival of the kindest.” As he noted that, “in our hominid predecessors, communities of more sympathetic individuals were more successful in raising healthier offspring to the age of viability and reproduction—the sine qua non of evolution.” This new science of altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching up with Darwin’s observations nearly 130 years ago, that sympathy is our strongest instinct.
It is the kindest who survive—and coincidentally, who attract the best sexual partners and healthiest relationships.
The journal Social Psychological and Personality Science states that, “among single individuals, engaging in pro-social behavior in any given year was associated with increased odds of finding a partner and entering into a romantic relationship.”
Moment, by moment, we will start to feel the shift—as our self-compassion begins to create feelings of a shared human connection, we allow for sympathy and kindness to overflow. In this place of a filled heart space, where we are able to relate to one another, it is inevitable that our overflowing cups will spread kindness. We are able to better see reality for what it is and develop wisdom and insight. And, as cited by Laura K. Banard and John F. Curry in their study on Self-Compassion, we can make changes needed for a fulfilling life and to develop a healthy conscientiousness.
When we stop berating ourselves for our failures, it is easier to not judge another for theirs.
The Review of General Psychology highlights the positive effects of Random Acts of Kindness when five acts are performed in the same day and can significantly boost not only our happiness, but also those who are receiving the kind act. This works because you think more highly of yourself, more positive interactions occur, and pro-social behaviors increase.
Note that variety is key, the same acts over and over lose meaning, and can become dull—so be creative and authentic. Writing down the act and how it made you feel will help the positive feelings last.
Today, on National Kindness week get motivated to display your altruism toward self and then, to others. This week is a special time to be kind, yet, as the Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.“
Author: Rachael Carlevale
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own