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How do you define kindness? Most people would intuitively answer that being kind means doing nice things for other people. Others might add that kindness includes being kind to oneself. Is it difficult to be kind? No. It is easy. It is so easy that sometimes we do not realize how simple it can be. Anna Cwojdzińska, psychologist, talks about simple acts of kindness and their extraordinary power.

Empathy and Compassion

What is kindness? According to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, kindness is “A natural quality of the heart, expressed through an act of good will and reflecting care for self and others.” The main sources of kindness are empathy and compassion, which we feel not only towards others, but also towards ourselves.

Some forms of therapy, such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), include the concept of self-compassion, i.e. the ability to be kind to oneself. This ability is regarded as the key factor for psychological and social wellbeing. Additionally, empathy is negatively correlated with aggression and violence (Arbour, Signal, & Taylor, 2009), which means that the higher the level of empathy, the lower the tendency to harm others.

Health

Kindness also affects personal health. The results of a study, evaluating the effectiveness of a program called “Making friends with yourself”, showed that the participants experienced lower levels of anxiety and stress. At the same time, they reported being in a better mood and having a noticeably improved ability for self-compassion and an increased level of life satisfaction (Bluth, Gaylord, Campo, Mullarkey, & Hobbs, 2016). Once they had realized that taking care of themselves might be beneficial and when they had learned how to do this, they began feeling better.

Conscious acts of kindness have a positive impact on mental health, including a better mood, an increased level of happiness and a higher level of life satisfaction. 

Gratitude

Gratitude goes hand in hand with kindness and it provides similar benefits. Research shows that expressing gratitude increases the level of well-being (Froh et al., 2014), especially in people who feel depressed (Froh, Kashdan, Ozimkowski, & Miller, 2009).

Doing something for others may also be a great opportunity to try something new. It helps to step outside one’s comfort zone, become more flexible and adapt easier to the changing environment. Kindness coupled with the right amount of new experiences increase the level of life satisfaction (Buchanan, 2010).

Professional literature on child development suggests that empathy and mindfulness training may promote empathy, pro-social behaviors, and compassion in young people. It also helps to show kindness in judging oneself and others and has a positive impact on self-regulation of emotions. Gratitude, on the other hand, provides both, immediate and longterm benefits of increased optimism, well-being and life satisfaction (Kaplan, deBlois, Dominguez, & Walsh, 2016). Engaging in pro-social activities also increases the level of acceptance in a peer group, which is very important for young people, hence it positively impacts the subjective assessment of their well-being (Layous, Nelson, Oberle, Schonert-Reichl, & Lyubomirsky, 2012).

Kindness and Happiness

Research conducted among adults indicates that conscious acts of kindness and being mindful of kindnesses shown by others have a positive impact on mental health, including a better mood, increased level of happiness and a higher level of life satisfaction. Practicing compassion, on the other hand, is co-related with an increased level of positive affect, the feeling of belonging and an improved level of personal resources, such as physical health, having a purpose in life, self-acceptance, mindfulness and positive relationships with others (Kaplan et al., 2016).

Is Kindness Contagious?

It has been known for some time that bad emotions are contagious (Dishion & Tipsord, 2011). Is it also possible to pass good emotions onto someone else? Yes, to a large degree. For example, the family has a big attitude-forming influence on children. We know that the style of upbringing shapes the ability to regulate emotions (Morris, Silk, Steinberg, & Robinson, 2009) and that mindfulness may have a positive impact on coping with challenging behavior of children (Bögels, Hellemans, van Deursen, Römer, & van der Meulen, 2014). According to the Social Learning Theory, children who observe their parents engaging in acts of kindness, display a stronger tendency to be kind. Moreover, if the same norms are observed at school and among peers, being kind becomes second nature.

Many parents focus on academic achievements of their children. It turns out that the key to success in school and in life is to develop strong socio-emotional competencies. Numerous studies indicate that well developed socio-emotional skills translate into a higher level of well-being and better grades, while a deficiency in the socio-emotional competencies may lead to numerous personal problems, social difficulties and weak academic performance (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011). Emphatic and caring children are more likely to engage in pro-social activities and they score better on social maturity and social competencies assessments. School-readiness tests also indicate that emphatic and caring children are more “cognitively ready” for school (Hyson & Taylor, 2011). Therefore, there is a growing interest in teaching mindfulness in schools (Kaplan et al., 2016).

It is nothing new that kindness, like a boomerang, comes back to the kind person. People have known it for centuries, which is reflected in religious and philosophical texts. Nowadays, we have scientific proof that good deeds as well as kindness towards others and oneself makes our lives complete, purposeful and happy. It takes as little as a kind word, a smile and a helping hand to change the world.

 

258 anna cwojdzinska

About the Author

Anna Cwojdzińska - psychologist and therapist specializing in working with children and adolescents. Graduate of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. Currently, a doctoral student at SWPS University in Warsaw and a lecturer at SWPS University in Poznań. Member of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) and Chair of the Board at KIND Kolektyw, an association for the promotion of kindness, in Poland.

Bibliography

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  • Froh, J. J., Kashdan, T. B., Ozimkowski, K. M., & Miller, N. (2009). Who benefits the most from a gratitude intervention in children and adolescents? Examining positive affect as a moderator. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(February 2013), 408–422. http://doi.org/10.1080/17439760902992464
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