There are precious few things in this world that are almost universally considered to be “good.” One of those things is kindness.
Kindness is one of those qualities we all think we “should” have, but it also seems to come naturally to some more than others.
Just like any other quality, however, kindness can be practiced and strengthened. As long as you really want it and are willing to put in the effort, you can develop your kindness so that it becomes a natural part of your daily life.
The benefits of kindness
Do you really want to be kinder? According to science, you should. As it turns out, our acts of kindness don’t just benefit other people—they benefit ourselves as well.
In fact, kindness is linked to more positive feelings, higher self-esteem, increased energy, and even a longer lifespan. It can also help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, and can even lower your blood pressure (through the release of oxytocin).
And you thought you were just doing something nice for someone else!
Kindness can be cultivated, but it’s a little tricky to do. After all, our brains have been programmed over time to think certain ways. Too often, our thoughts take us down paths of criticism, judgment, pessimism, and complaining—none of which are likely to lead to kindness.
One way to try to overcome these negative thought patterns is by asking yourself certain questions that will help you recognize opportunities for kindness and, hopefully, move you to action.
I call them “kindness prompts.”
These prompts are meant to be guides that will direct you towards opportunities for kindness in your life. Some of the prompts are more useful when you’re faced with a specific situation (e.g. a friend having a hard day), while others may help you work on your kindness more proactively.
However they work for you, these prompts can help you develop and practice being kinder to others.
What problem(s) do I see?
It’s easy (really easy) to get caught up in the hustle of everyday life. With everything that’s on your plate—whether that’s soccer practice and making dinner, or boardroom meetings and working for that promotion—it’s not always obvious that other people are struggling.
Slow down, open your eyes and ears, and allow yourself to become aware of the problems facing the people around you. Chances are, you’ll be able to identify a couple people close to you who could use your help.
How can I help?
Once you’ve identified a problem, ask yourself how you’re uniquely qualified to help—or, if you’re not qualified, how you could help anyway.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve felt like I should help someone, only to talk myself out of it. You might be in the same boat if you find yourself looking at someone and saying things like:
“He’s a strong person. He doesn’t need my help.”
“The only thing I could do would be too small to matter.”
“That’s not that big of a problem; I’m sure she has it under control.“
“She has so many friends and family members close by; I would be more of a burden than a help.”
Ever heard of the Bystander Effect? This psychological phenomenon claims that a person is less likely to offer help to someone in need if there are other people close by. The larger the group, the worse it gets. Responsibility to take action is diffused among the group, and no one ends up doing anything.
Making excuses to not help is like the Bystander Effect happening on a smaller scale. You assume someone else is going to handle it, so you don’t take action.
If you want to cultivate kindness, stop thinking about all the reasons why you shouldn’t help, and start thinking about the ways you can help. More often than not, there’s something you can do that would make a positive difference.
What insecurities do I have that are keeping me from acting?
Sometimes, it’s our own insecurities that are at the heart of unkindness.
Think of the stereotypical school bully—the one who treats other children terribly, but only to cover up some sort of sadness or emptiness they feel inside.
While most of us have probably moved past stealing lunch money or taunting others on the bus, we all have insecurities that hold us back in some way, shape, or form.
Are you afraid that others will take advantage of you if you’re too nice to them? Are you worried that your act of kindness will be misinterpreted in some way? Do you think you’ll be judged if your act of kindness isn’t perfect? Or do you think your efforts to be kind might be rejected altogether?
These are real insecurities that could very easily and understandably keep you from being kind, even when you’re inclined to do so. That said, do you really want your own insecurities to keep you from all the benefits being kind can bring?
Once you’ve identified the insecurities that are holding you back, forgive yourself for them and move on. Chances are, they’ll show up again, but now that you’re aware of them, you can choose to move past them and be kind anyway.
What is it like to be [insert other person here]?
Walking a mile in another person’s shoes is likely going to be uncomfortable, but it’s one of the best ways to inspire kindness toward that person.
One of the reasons this works is because we tend to judge other people by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions.
You might judge a stranger for bringing their toddler to the grocery store without any shoes, only to find yourself in the same predicament a week later. The action is the same; the difference is that you know you told your toddler to get their shoes no fewer than twelve times, and somehow they still made it out of the house without them.
You know your intentions were good, so you don’t judge yourself as harshly.
Try to put yourself in other people’s shoes, and give them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. That mom in the grocery store needs a sympathetic smile far more than she needs a judgmental smirk—trust me.
Who could I serve today?
Sometimes, all it takes to inspire kindness is to think of someone we could be kind to. Whether we know someone going through a specific trial, or we think of a friend or family member we’re especially grateful for, it never hurts to reach out in service when you can.
Practice kindness proactively by thinking of someone you could serve, and perform a small act of kindness for them (see ideas below!).
What are my intentions?
Remember how important intentions are? Well, recognizing your intentions can actually help you as you try to become a kinder person.
Are you doing a kind thing, but for the wrong reasons? Do you expect praise or gratitude in return for your kindness? Or, on the flip side, do you have good intentions, but a hard time following through?
Recognize your intentions, whether they be good or bad. Give yourself credit for the good ones, and work on getting to the bottom of the bad ones. Is there insecurity at the bottom of your bad intentions? Fear? Once you understand why you’re feeling a certain way, you’ll be able to overcome it more easily.
Kind acts to try today
These prompts can help inspire a spirit of kindness within you, but remember: practice makes perfect! Learning to be kind to others is sometimes simply a matter of doing kind things every day and being mindful of the positivity that comes your way because of them.
In that spirit, here are some simple kind acts that you can try today.
Express gratitude. Tell someone thank you—whether it’s for something they did, for something they said, or just for being the special person they are!
Smile. The universal symbol of friendship and kindness can go a long way towards brightening someone’s day. Remember to smile at everyone you interact with, from your cashier to your waitress.
Give compliments. A nice compliment can make someone feel great. Give a genuine compliment to a friend, or even to a stranger. You’ll both walk away smiling.
Send a kind text. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple “I’m thinking of you” to show someone kindness.
Hold the door open. Bonus points if the person has their hands full, but even if they don’t, it’s still a nice gesture.
Leave a nice review. Leave a kind review for your favorite podcast, a local restaurant, your dentist, or anyone else you appreciate. They’ll appreciate you right back!
Be a nice driver. There are enough rude drivers out there; don’t be one of them. Resist the urge to honk, cut people off, battle for parking spots, and so on. There’s no room for road rage in a kind heart.
Pay for the person behind you. When you go through a drive-thru and you get to the payment window, pay for the car behind you, as well as for your own order. The warm and fuzzy feeling you get is worth the extra few dollars!
Kindness is something we all value and respect, and it’s something we should all be working to develop, every day. Use these kindness prompts and simple acts of kindness to kick start your journey toward a kinder, happier life.
Start your path to a kinder approach…
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