Kindness is a powerful force. A single good deed—such as sending a “thinking of you” card, paying for a stranger’s parking, or giving up your seat on a crowded train—is often enough to change the receiver’s mood, perspective, or even their entire day.
But did you know that when you make someone feel cared for, respected, or loved, you’re also helping yourself? Tara Cousineau, Ph.D., psychologist and author of The Kindness Cure, says that research repeatedly shows that the positive and wide-ranging benefits associated with kindness go both ways. For example:
It can make you happier. In an experiment at the University of California Riverside, students who practiced five small kind acts per week, like helping a friend with their homework or donating blood, reported an increase in happiness, whereas students in a control group (who did nothing) actually reported a slight decrease.
It can protect your mental health. Kindness triggers an increase of endorphins, the body’s “feel good” chemical, which activates the part of the brain associated with enjoyment and helps lessen the effects of depression.
It might even lead to a longer life. One global study found that people who volunteer have better overall health outcomes than those who don’t, which lead to a 22 percent lower mortality rate when the researchers followed up with both groups years later.
When you take steps to make kindness a consistent focus and driving force in your life, it can be transformative—not to mention culturally contagious. Even the smallest act can influence another person, and another after that. “The actions we take, online or off, have the capacity to spread,” says Cousineau. “This gives us the privilege and the responsibility to share the best of our selves with the world.”
Keep reading for three small, simple ways to do just that.
1. Be Intentional (Not Random)
The phrase “random acts of kindness” works well on a bumper sticker, but it can undermine the purpose of kindness by framing it as an afterthought.
“The fact is, true kindness takes effort, and engaging with others must come from a place of love and a deep belief that we are all connected,” says Cousineau. “Kindness is love in action. It is not random. It requires vulnerability and, often, courage.”
TRY IT: Put kindness on your daily to-do list.
Make kindness a priority by setting a goal to perform a daily good deed. It can be as simple as sending a friend a book you think they’d like, inviting the new person in your office to lunch, or offering words of encouragement to someone who needs them.
2. Go Beyond Your Inner Circle
Kindness is not just for the people you love or need something from. “True kindness has no agenda or ulterior motive,” says Cousineau. “It’s unprompted, generous, sincere, and comes with no strings attached.”
TRY IT: Be kind to someone you disagree with.
Not seeing eye-to-eye on an issue with someone doesn’t lessen their need for kindness…nor your ability to give it. Do one small, kind thing for a person whom you find particularly difficult. You may be pleasantly surprised at the response.
For example, says Cousineau, “When you chat over a cup of coffee with a person you don’t agree with, you’ll likely find some shared value or connection, despite your different backgrounds or beliefs.” To make the most of the interaction, she adds, “Ask yourself, ‘How can I bring kindness to this moment? Can I listen with full attention?’”
3. Own Your Power
“Kindness is an instinctual response that can feel highly energized and even fierce,” says Cousineau, “but that doesn’t make it easy to do.” Stress can take us from fear and panic to exhaustion and indifference, causing us to disengage from our kindness instinct. “We all need reminders to engage our kinder natures,” she adds.
TRY IT: Reflect on your capacity for kindness.
Take a moment to consider (or better yet, journal about) your capacity to be kind using the following prompts:
- I remember when I helped…
- I was reminded about human kindness when…
- I’ll never forget that time someone was kind to me and…
The bottom line: Doing good is good for everyone involved. Make it your goal to do something nice each day—and enjoy the benefits that follow.
Terri Trespicio is an award-winning writer, speaker, and a long-time media expert on health and wellbeing. She was one of the early contributors to meQuilibrium, and her work has been featured on Dr. Oz, Oprah magazine, Prevention, and MindBodyGreen, among others. Find her on Twitter @TerriT.