When I read those words, ‘Dare to act kindly’ by Don Miquel Ruiz, it stirred up all kinds of thoughts. Why would being kind require you to be daring?
And then I thought of the plethora of reality shows on tv where contestants are, it would seem, encouraged to be less than kind. And the constant news items about trolling. Maybe it is more daring to act kindly?
Benefits of Acting Kindly
There doesn’t have to be a difference between acting kindly to others or to yourself. Scientists have shown us that acting kindly towards others equates to being kind to yourself. It’s proven that when you act in a kind way towards others, you release feel-good chemicals and hormones in your body.
One of these hormones, oxytocin, is often called the love hormone because it’s essential in the way we form social and intimate bonds. It’s the hormone released when mothers breastfeed that fosters the bond between mother and baby and the hormone released when we fall in love.
Oxytocin also causes the release of nitric oxide which dilates the blood vessels and reduces blood pressure. So oxytocin is also known as a cardioprotective hormone as it protects the heart by lowering blood pressure.
Acts of kindness are also responsible for the release of dopamine which can give you a ‘helper’s high’. And, in addition to boosting oxytocin and dopamine, kindness can also increase serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters that can help to regulate mood. Kindness can also increase levels of an endorphin type chemical in the body called substance P which can relieve pain so when you’re kind to others, you really are helping yourself in many areas.
How Can you Dare to be Kind?
So what type of kindness are we talking about? Showing kindness to others can come in many forms. It can be as simple as letting cars out in front of you in a traffic jam or smiling at a stranger.
It’s so easy to fall into habits of being irritable with those you love, maybe not really listening to them when they’re talking to you because you have so much going on in your head and you only have time to listen to yourself?
But you can show kindness to the people in your life by just noticing that you’re falling into this type of behaviour and pause. Use the pause button to think about where you think the irritation is coming from and, whilst it looks compelling that this behaviour is coming from them, you know that this isn’t really the case. It can only ever come from your thoughts about them. This can help you to let go of the irritation which is good for you and those around you.
Being kind to others can help you to feel grateful for your life. An act of kindness shines a light on your health and happiness and even if you felt unhappy a moment before the act, you are guaranteed to feel better afterward.
The University of British Columbia surveyed a group of highly anxious individuals and asked them to perform at least six acts of kindness a week. After one month, they reported a significant increase in positive moods, better relationships, and less social anxiety.
Daring to be Kind to Reduce Stress
Showing kindness to others can also help you reduce your own stress. Scientists have found that kind people have 23% less cortisol, which is the stress hormone, and they age slower than their less kind contemporaries. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you’re feeling stressed and you take time to be kind, you’ve let go of your stressful thoughts in that moment and will, naturally, feel better.
Imagine that you’re in a supermarket queue, you’re short on time and patience and the old lady in front of you is taking forever with the cashier, counting out her coupons and change. You’re fidgeting about and getting more and more wound up and then you hear the cashier tell the old lady that she’s a pound short in her payment.
You might see the old lady look at her shopping to see what she can return and you can tap your foot and look at your watch and wind yourself up even more. Or, you can offer to pay the outstanding amount. You can give the cashier a pound so the old lady can take her shopping home.
This will have a few results. The old lady is happy and you’re happy because you can make your transaction in a shorter time than it would take for the old lady’s returned item to be scanned and you feel good because you’ve helped someone. You might imagine that the good feeling is coming from the shorter time in the queue or even from the old lady’s gratitude but, really, you feel good because you’ve stopped thinking about you and your problems for a minute and the feeling has shifted.
Kindness is Contagious
We’ve all heard of paying it forward where one person receives an act of kindness and then commits a kind act themselves. Or feeling upset or angry and then someone does something kind for us and our mood changes and then we’re kind to someone else.
Being kind helps us to feel connected. Human beings are naturally sociable creatures and feelings of anger, stress and anxiety can make us feel isolated and alone.
But be aware, that these acts of kindness can’t be one-off for you to get the benefits. Scientists tell us that biochemically you can’t live on the 3–4 minutes oxytocin boost that you get from a random act of kindness. Kindness has to be repeated often for you to benefit.
Dare to be Kind to Yourself
So being kind to others can help us physically and mentally but how about being kind to yourself? What act of kindness can you do for yourself every day?
It could be taking time to dry brush your skin before a shower? Or moisturising your body? Making sure that you drink enough water during the day or preparing a healthy meal for yourself?
But the biggest kindness you can do for yourself is to understand where your feelings of irritation and upset are coming from. When you see that you’re always, 100%, experiencing your thought in the moment you can let go of judgemental, angry, upset or irritated thoughts and revert back to your essential self, love. And kindness.
Without having to be at all daring.