One of the first things that I remember my teachers telling me was to be kind. Kindness was important they'd say, and sometimes during lunchtime they'd repeat the platitude, "Sharing is caring." Of course, that platitude was always especially hard to swallow if I had a really, really tasty looking cupcake in my lunch. Needless to say, my five-year-old self ignored that platitude most of the time.
Now, in retrospect, I wonder if the reason it was repeated so much is because of the marked lack of kindness in the world at large. After beginning my college experience (limited as it is) and hearing my advisors lament over lack of kindness, I am inclined to think so. Here are six reasons to be kind, not only to give you a reason but explain why kindness, both given and received, is essential to well-being, especially mental health.
First of all, kindness is a little like exercise and vitamins. According to a study by Emory University, both giving and receiving kindness releases good, “happy” hormones like serotonin. So not only does kindness make you happier in general, over the long term kindness improves general health. Think about it like this: by contrast, through being kind you are allowing yourself to have good thoughts, feel good and have less tension. And well, who doesn’t want to be happy?
2. Mental Health
As you know, there are studies that are finding a correlation between our emotion, like feeling sour, and our health. So, even if you're at the most pragmatic standpoint, kindness looks pretty good. However, there are even more health benefits. For example, kindness reduces stress, tension, anxiety and depression and in turn lengthens your lifespan and heightens your satisfaction. In other words, kindness is a type of apple a day to keep the doctor away. Kind of.
3. Relationships with Others
Humans are inherently social beings. We need to be around and interact with others at some level. It's why family is important and why we all value friends so highly. But the big question we're trying to answer is why we should be kind, anyways.
Let's start thinking about this the pragmatically. If we need to be around others and communication is essential to our mental well-being, wouldn't it be better if those interactions were positive? Because honestly, when someone is rude and unkind to me (and when I'm rude to someone else), that's enough to sour my mood.
There’s another reason: most of the time, we're kind for the idea of reciprocity. We think to ourselves, "I'll help this person with their directions. If I were in this situation, I'd like for someone to help me." But on a much clearer scale, we may help one person because we want to have a favor later. We may say, "Just remember that I did this favor for you whenever I need one." In the end, this kind of kindness is good. It keeps the wheels in our pragmatic world.
4. Relationship with Self
However, being kind shouldn't only be limited to being kind and receiving kindness from others. It is also about giving kindness to yourself. You are also important and wonderful, and if you're having a bad day or bad moment, you should be kind to yourself. This doesn't only mean to give yourself a pat on the back or "spoiling" yourself with a treat; this also means giving yourself a break.
We are our own worst critics, and well, you can't hide from yourself. As a perfectionist, I completely understand the impulse to be dissatisfied or frustrated with something you have done, a piece of art, something you've said, etc. But there comes a point when you have to stop, breathe and realize that you are not perfect. No one is, and all that anyone can do is their best. We have to be satisfied with that. But more than just about what we do, we have to satisfied with ourselves, our thoughts, our emotions and our bodies. So be kind to yourself, because we can only give to others what we have and if we aren’t kind to ourselves, we can’t give kindness to others.
5. Sense of Community
More than just helping us be happier, kindness, especially when given, helps create a sense of community, a sense of being an aid or being aided by others. It creates a sense of kinship with others, which is essential to psychological health. We are meant to be communal. Being kind to someone else is being kind to you, and over time this mentality creates a culture of kindness and a sense of community. Remember those hormones I was talking about? The ones that kindness releases? It also releases oxytocin, the “love” hormone that helps infants and mothers bond and helps us bond to others throughout our lives.
6. Culture of Kindness
What do I mean by “culture of kindness”? I mean being friendly, generous and considerate. By holding the door for someone or asking if someone who looks upset is fine and offering to help them. What I mean is to take every opportunity, every interaction with others and act nicely to them. Lack of kindness can look like this: not smiling back, being rude and not helping someone who needs help. If you’re wondering, if it matters if one more person is kind, will that change anything? I’m glad you asked. Yes, it will, because kindness is contagious, like a cold, but ten-million times better.
Now I’ve given you six reasons to be kind, but I’ll be honest with you: it is difficult, and you won’t always be kind. I am not, and well, sometimes those closest to us get the brunt of our lack of kindness. That’s probably part of our inherent human failings. Don’t beat yourself up about it, but recognize the problem and try to correct it. That’s the best we can do.
But before you click away, let me tell you the most important part of this article: kindness isn’t only about these reasons, and these probably shouldn’t be our main reasons to be kind. We should try to be kind for the sake of kindness, as hard as that is. So we can start being kind for any of these reasons until we build yourself into a habit of kindness. Somewhere along the line we may start being kind for the sake of kindness, not just for our health or happiness. In the end, that's the most important part, not only for ourselves but the people around you. This is so that you can start to be kind to them, to you and the world at large.
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