So there I was … stuck on the phone with my insurance billing department. AGAIN. Co-parenting has many challenging aspects and today it was resolving insurance information. All I wanted to do was simply pay the bill and 45 minutes later, it still hadn’t happened. To make matters worse, the customer service woman talked slower than anyone I had encountered in my life. She also put me on hold multiple times because she clearly didn’t know how to help me. As I lamented giving up my lunch to make this call, I could feel my blood pressure and frustration rising by the second. In that moment, kindness was the furthest thing from my mind.
We are faced with countless opportunities to show kindness on a daily basis. But how many times do we actually take advantage of those opportunities? I will be the first to admit that it can be so tough to choose kindness over sarcasm, negativity, or a false sense of self-importance. It seems much more gratifying to send a message about how we’ve been wronged by responding with barbs of hostility. But is it really more gratifying? And how do we show kindness in those moments of intense frustration? Kindness has been on my heart recently and I wanted to share my thoughts (and the research!) on the topic. You may be pleasantly surprised by my findings!
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
What is Kindness?
Depending upon who you ask, the definition of kindness varies. At its core, kindness is basic care and consideration for other people. Kindness is a quality which is valued by cultures throughout the world and includes the idea of helping another person without expectation of reciprocation. Multiple experiments at Yale University have even found it a quality naturally occurring in humans. Great! So we are born with the ability to be kind to others but what exactly does this look like?
There are potentially billions of ways to act it out, some more obvious than others. It may include sending a text of encouragement to a friend. You could bake cookies for your neighbor or for a fundraiser. Or you could give your bestie a compliment. These are fairly obvious ways to be kind but there are also tougher situations which deserve kindness. You’ve been on the phone with customer service for 45 minutes, avoid snarky comments the entire time, and even tell the agent to have a nice day at the end of the call. And you genuinely meant it. The barista at your favorite coffee shop screws up your order and you tip them extra despite the mistake. I think you can easily come up with additional situations. But why should we choose kindness when it’s so tough?
Why Choose Kindness?
Because it’s good for us. Wait … what?? It’s true – more and more research is going into the impact of being kind and the results are promising. Being kind to others has been shown to improve energy and self-worth while decreasing feelings of depression. It also has the potential to increase happiness and even one’s life span. Helping another person has been shown to increase a chemical in the brain called serotonin which is associated with pleasure, a phenomenon called the “helper’s high.” Displaying kindness additionally has been correlated with lowering blood pressure. If you don’t believe me, check out this page from Dartmouth University to confirm for yourself.
The “helper’s high” has been the subject of extensive study recently. This phenomenon has been shown to counteract the body’s stress response and to improve immunity. Kindness also assists in decreasing negative feelings such as bitterness and jealousy. The field of social psychology has also noted protective features of kindness in the development of relationships. It’s amazing to me that we are taught to be kind from a young age but it actually has physical impacts even beyond those of being considered “kind” by one’s peers. Truly incredible!
How Can We Choose Kindness?
Great question! I wish I had an easy answer for this one but the truth is that it can be very tough sometimes! The thought process which has helped me the most is that everyone is battling something and I have no idea what it is. The customer service agent I dealt with may have a grandchild fighting cancer. The barista may be preoccupied with worrying about how she’s going to pay rent. Or the driver who just cut you off in traffic may be racing to say goodbye to his father who is on hospice before it’s too late. In any given moment, you have no idea what someone is dealing with and you would most likely not want to be in their shoes. This is the reason that I choose kindness.
In today’s world, being kind is the path less chosen. Making this choice requires me to dig deep and to be a better person one day at a time. I am far from perfect and willingly admit that I choose to be unkind more than I’d like. It’s so easy to forget to give others grace and to detach myself from the situation when it doesn’t really matter anyway. Like getting the wrong coffee or spending 45 minutes on the phone with a complete stranger. Neither of these will dramatically impact my life in any meaningful way. I also forget to embrace the journey and relinquish control of the results. I can put in the work but at the end of the day, the results aren’t really up to me anyway. The only thing I can control is my own actions and how I treat those around me.
It’s Your Turn
Think back to the last time you talked about someone behind their back or made a snide remark to a sales person. How did it make you feel? Now think back to the last time you gave a complete stranger a compliment or let someone in front of you when the line at Wal-Mart was super long, you were tired, and the kids were screaming. Which one felt better? I can’t answer for you, but I feel way better when I do something spontaneously nice or when I choose to put someone else’s needs above my own.
Kindness is a choice and we can choose compassion to ourselves and others countless times each day. You may not be able to solve someone’s most pressing and heart-breaking problem, but you can make sure that you leave a positive imprint on their lives. You can be the sunshine that the world desperately needs right now. There’s so much negativity out there – why add to it? I challenge you (and myself!) to choose kindness because you’ll never regret making someone feel great about themselves!