Tracy Brower, Contributor
Dec. 29, 2020
Kindness is a really good thing for others—but also for your own wellbeing, according to science. It’s also more prevalent than you might think, and a cause for optimism—even in pessimistic times.
A brand new study featured in Psychological Bulletin conducted meta-analysis consolidating 201 independent research efforts representing 198,213 participants. It found kindness positively contributes to all kinds of wellbeing.
Kindness is more common than you might be led to believe by the dark days of the pandemic, doom scrolling or the media which tends to emphasize the negative. Whether it’s kindness on the subway, on a college campus or in a corporation—it’s all around us. As one woman said, “This restores my faith in humanity.” Indeed, it can be a danger to lose hope. But here’s how to cling to the positive and turn hope into your own contribution.
Tune in . One of the lessons from the research on kindness, was that people’s wellbeing was boosted most when they helped others spontaneously. The quintessential example of helping the little old lady across the street is apt. Often, it was the unplanned opportunities to assist which boosted people’s sense of purpose and contribution to community. Consider the example of the older gentleman on the subway who helped the younger person headed to an interview with tying his tie (certainly a lost art). Tune into your community, your neighborhood and your colleagues—listen and watch for opportunities to express kindness.
Be empathetic. One of the unique elements of humanity is the ability to take others’ perspectives and imagine what they must be going through. Whether or not we’ve gone through something similar, we can think in the abstract about what they must be feeling (emotional empathy or sympathy) or thinking (cognitive empathy or sympathy). This perspective-taking is the starting point for kindness because guessing what someone else is going through gives you a sense of how you might help.
Think small . Sometimes it can feel like the kindnesses that really matter are the big things. But, instead, think small. The water bottle you hand to the person panhandling near the red light or the encouraging word you give to a colleague when you know they’re having a bad day can mean more than you might think. There’s even an app that helps you do small things. Be My Eyes puts those with reduced vision in touch with volunteers in the moments when they may need support to see. Whether you’re helping to find something or helping someone find their way around, the quick exchanges between strangers are made possible through the app. While they are small moments, they are wonderfully impactful.
Be humble . Kindness is always a good thing but avoid giving from a place of superiority. In her book, A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit makes the point disasters are opportunities for bonding because everyone is in need and everyone must both give and receive . Know that while you may have more to give today, tables can turn and the unexpected can happen. So kindness without conditions is the best sort—given from a place of humility.
Embrace the good . Find kindness around you and expand it, share it and emphasize it. Looking for it and extending it on social media are all really good ideas, because this kind of positivity encourages all of us.
Lead . Sometimes you will demonstrate kindness through individual action like getting groceries for the elderly neighbor down the street or going out of your way to buy lemonade from the neighborhood kids’ stand. Other times, you’ll organize a group or initiate action , bringing people together to fill a need. Sherry Levine organized the aMAIZEing Blue Crew, a group of local college moms and dads who provide support for University of Michigan students in quarantine. Levine is quick to credit her community and the large number of parents who have volunteered to be available at a moment’s notice to respond to a student’s request. Indeed—kindness always has an outsize impact—especially with a well-organized initiative which invites so many to contribute.
Create the conditions . At the level of leadership in an organization, you can be the type of company where people make decisions to give, to share and to do the right thing for their colleagues because they know it will not only be allowed, but embraced. Michael Starbuck’s son was approaching his third birthday and was always enamored of his dad’s badge from Steelcase, where Michael works. Michael reached out to Steelcase’s security department where Jake Adams made his son a badge—creating a treasured birthday gift for Michael’s son. How cool! Regardless of the kind of company, association or organization you are, create the conditions where doing a kindness is an easy decision—and one for celebration.
Kindness isn’t rocket science—it’s pretty straightforward. It can be hard to find though, when things seem so bad. It can also be hard to offer when we’re under our own mountain of stress. But be reassured it’s out there. Stay attuned to need and be empathetic, knowing small things can matter a lot. Be humble and embrace the good around you. Take the lead and make kindness happen personally, as a group and in your company. It takes a village and every kindness counts toward our collective wellbeing.
By Tracy Brower, Contributor
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