In recent months humankind has been charged a paradoxical fate; to sustain our society we need to break it a little. We need to go against what is engrained in us for individual and collective survival and socially distance from one another, in a bid tackle a virus which thrives on our communality. However, in the face of our physical separation our compassion appears to have swollen, with acts of incredible kindness spreading faster than the virus and effectively holding communities together, as people do what they can to support and bring joy to those around them. The 18th May observes the start of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and the theme this year has recently been changed from loneliness to kindness, granting an open invitation to reflect on the positive value of kindness in building wellbeing and resilience in communities.
Kindness can be recognised as friendly, considerate or generous gestures towards people, including ourselves. When it comes to kindness, sometimes the more simple and ordinary the better, which makes kindness accessible currency for everyone. At a time when we can’t physically stand close together, we can join together through kindness.
Here we share 5 things to consider to better understand how kindness can nourish our relationships:
Kindness has the capacity to strengthen communities by promoting a sense of sharing, togetherness and connection and dissolving feelings of invisibility and loneliness, as individuals feel seen, cared for and valued. And these benefits are not just for the recipient, the donor too profits from this bounty of rewards and one act of kindness can start a chain reaction of goodwill and positivity that can reverberate through families and communities. Through altruism we build more empathic, cooperative and sustainable societies and as Psychiatrist Bruce Perry once wrote, “Relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love.”
Not everybody feels comfortable receiving and accepting unsolicited compliments, favours, gifts and offers of help and could, through feeling awkward, decline or refuse acts of kindness from others. Declining pro-social gestures may feel like the easiest way to avoid feelings of social unease but can potentially sacrifice and extinguish the positive echoes of kindness. How good are you at accepting kindness? Our feelings of discomfort are usually about us and our unfamiliarity or sense of worth in the situation; how do I respond to this? Do I deserve this compliment, this person’s time, this gift or opportunity? By simply saying thank you, you invert the immediate focus away from you and back to the other person, without discharging the kindness. Give yourself permission to receive kindness and to feel the warmth of care, connection and inclusion.
Gratitude has been recognised as hugely beneficial in lifting mood by supporting people to recognise and appreciate the little gifts and blessings that surround us each day, which might otherwise go unnoticed. Gratitude, together with kindness, creates a symbiotic pairing for radiating and extending the ripples of friendliness and unity within communities. Every day try to make a point of reflecting on what you are grateful for, to let acts of kindness and other positive phenomena fully absorb into your awareness and let yourself be emotionally impacted. If you have received kindness let yourself feel cared for, connected, included, warmed and hopeful, without excusing, avoiding, questioning or diluting the gesture.
Kindness invites us to feel good in the here-and-now. As a society we often chase happiness yet keep it out of reach over the horizon; like a desert mirage, with happiness hinged on attaining future goals which are reset as soon as we reach them. Through kindness we reach happiness in the present moment, whichever side of the transaction we are on. Our relationships and interactions with people are immensely influential on our wellbeing and kindness from a stranger has the power to instantly shift our mood. In the case of Jonny Benjamin’s true story of suicide and kindness, “The Stranger on The Bridge”, acts of kindness and compassion may even save lives. Acts of kindness promote the release of the hormone dopamine; that pleasant feeling of euphoria that washes over you leaving you feeling uplifted. The happier we are, the more able we are to adapt to the world, which is particularly important as we handle the changes enforced by the current pandemic.
An act of kindness does not just have to follow an outwards path; we can also direct kindness inwards towards ourselves. Just as our community relationships can be bolstered by kindness, our internal relationship can also be fortified by taking steps to compliment, consider, invest in and promote ourselves. Through self-care we deliver the message to ourselves that we matter and that belief provides a perennial source of security from within. All too often we might bypass or repress our own needs and desires, whilst we dutifully attune to the needs and care of those around us and this imbalance can create an emptiness within. Making time to show kindness to yourself enriches your health and wellbeing from the inside out and that outward glow can reach beyond your boundary and impact those around you. As the saying goes, you can’t fill from an empty cup and so by being kind to yourself, you are better able to care for those around you.
Kindness has the power to deliver social recognition and a sense of shared humanity. It invites us to connect with those around us and feel lifted by the power of here-and-now person-to-person contact. Through thoughtful gestures we communicate to those around us “I see you and I care” which works to reduce feelings of invisibility and isolation. With kindness amongst us we create environments which feel safe and individuals feel included and when directed inwards, helps to create conditions for self-acceptance and care. So, in a world where you can be anything, be kind.
CXK’s Emotional Wellbeing Service is a paid for service available to schools and colleges across the south-east. As part of the service, we provide person-centred counselling and brief solution-focused interventions which build emotional resilience and coping skills in children and young people.