World Kindness Day is celebrated on 13th November each year. Kindness is more than just a behaviour, it’s a way of life, a way of being. Most importantly, it’s a choice. Just as happiness and gratitude are choices, so is kindness. We enact kindness through the choice of our thoughts, words and actions. Equally important to note is that kindness starts at home. And by this I mean it starts with yourself. For we cannot be unto others, what we are not to ourselves. For then we are living disingenuously: without authenticity and coherence. This eats us up from the inside (like a worm in an apple that turns it rotten).
The Concept of “Metta” and the Meaning of Kindness
Metta is a Buddhist practice. It’s all about a progression of loving kindness, starting with self and allowing it to ripple out to others: first to someone in trouble, then to someone you love, then someone you know less well, then to someone you dislike and at the very end to all beings. The goal of Metta is to generate happiness for all without expecting something in return. Metta overcomes all barriers, whether social, religious, racial, political and economic. It’s an unselfish, universal form of love and is the antidote to fear, anger and selfishness. We start with ourselves, because in showing loving kindness we can annihilate any self-loathing and self-doubts. We reteach ourselves our natural loveliness and our ability to blossom and flower under the right conditions. That is how we positively change our world and the world around us.
The online dictionary describes Kindness as “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate”. So how do we practise kindness for ourselves and others?
How to Practise Kindness according to The Four Agreements
Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a code book or guide on how to live a life in greater happiness and peace. It’s based on ancient Toltec wisdom. These are words of wisdom from those who ruled central Mexico a thousand years ago. Much of what Ruiz resurrected in his 1997 The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, (Amber-Allen Publishing) revolves around kindness.
Essentially these are:
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
Essentially this is about speaking with integrity and kindness to yourself and others. Seek to avoid judgement, gossip and criticism. In the spirit of Dr Wayne Dyer always think and speak with “the intention to love” without condemnation, aspersion or affixing conditions or ulterior motives.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
When you learn that what others say and do has nothing to do with you and is simply a projection of their own reality, then you become less hostile and more impervious to the opinions of others. This creates more peace and equanimity in your life, allowing you the grace and freedom to express yourself with greater kindness.
Seriously, people are like walking databases. Their experiences during their lives have moulded them into who they are. When people form an opinion of you, it comes from all the data they have stored and that won’t necessarily match your database. Knowing this, you can break the cycle of hostility and negativity and reach for the higher moral ground with greater understanding, empathy and compassion.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Unfortunately, making assumptions about everything and anything seems to be in our DNA. Making false assumptions about what another person is thinking or feeling is a recipe for drama, pain and ongoing conflict. It’s therefore imperative to find the courage and vulnerability to communicate clearly and openly with others to avoid misunderstandings, even if it means admitting you may have been wrong in the first place. Pride is often a deterrent to practising thoughtfulness and kindness to others.
We also make assumptions about the actions of others and this, coupled with taking things personally, is a recipe for disaster. A colleague could be “off” with you at work and you assume it is something you have said or done. By the end of the working day, you have convinced yourself that you’re failing at your role and you may as well print out your P45 when, in reality, your colleague is just having an “off” day due to personal events at home (probably arising from assumptions).
Recognising the fact that we are making assumptions is key to a more harmonious life. Take a moment now to think about times you have made assumptions in your life and the troubles it has caused. It is surprising how unconsciously we do this! To release yourself from this daily burden, practise recognising your assumption-making and how you deal with them. And whatever happens, don’t be hard on yourself, this is your journey and you navigate it at your pace and with absolute kindness.
4. Always Do Your Best
So many of us have been taught to always do better and work harder. But this type of upbringing and societal programming leads to thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are not consistent with loving kindness. It’s a culture of perfectionism that destroys inner peace and happiness.
“Do your best” is certainly nothing to do with perfectionism. It is best practised with an attitude of kindness for you will have good days and bad days, sick days and healthy days. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
Attempting to overdo everything on blue or “down” days will lead to exhaustion, feelings of failure and self-judgement. These are the days when you need to truly love yourself, to accept that a slower pace is required and that is your best today – celebrate it! I felt blue and tired today, but I got up and did my best – “go me!”
Conversely, on “let’s do this” days, you wake feeling happy with a positive disposition on the day’s events ahead and your body is literally ready to jump out of bed to tackle whatever the day brings.
Extract from The Four Agreements:
The first three agreements will only work if you do your best. Don’t expect that you will always be able to be impeccable with your word. Your routine habits are too strong and firmly rooted in your mind. But you can do your best. Don’t expect that you will never take things personally; just do your best. Don’t expect that you never make another assumption, but you can certainly do your best…If you do your best always, over and over again, you will become a master of transformation.
Specific Acts of Kindness towards Others
Here are just a few suggestions of how you can positively impact others through small and random gestures of kindness:
- Write a letter of appreciation to someone you haven’t heard from in a long time (even if the estrangement was not entirely your fault).
- Give someone a genuine, spoken compliment, whether you know them well or not.
- Offer to do someone a favour: perhaps pack or carry their shopping or fetch a shopping trolley for them.
- Let someone go in front of you in the queue.
- Hold the door open for a stranger.
- Tip the waiter or the porter a little extra for their hard work.
- Clean up or wash up without being asked.
- Make someone a surprise meal or cake.
- Make a special point of smiling and saying thank you to staff at a checkout or at a service desk.
- Say thank you in words (in a card or letter) or with flowers to someone who has been kind or attentive to you.
- Offer to pay for someone’s shopping (if it’s a small purchase).
- Buy a hot meal or a blanket for a homeless person.
- Offer to do some voluntary work: perhaps help to make tea in an old people’s hospice, offer to accompany a priest to visit the sick in hospital, take food from a food bank to a family that’s in need, work at a local charity shop.
One kind act can make someone’s day. Multiple kind acts by multiple people create momentum and a kindness movement. Acts of kindness are “prosocial”, which means they work to better society. And just like smiling, kindness can be contagious. It spreads positivity and its benefits compound. When someone says or does something kind to us we are more likely to pay it forward. And the reasons are because kindness makes a positive difference physically, emotionally and mentally.
How Kindness is Good for Body, Mind and Soul
Science has proven that kindness (as with laughter) can positively change our brain chemistry and our body’s health through the release of a powerful cocktail of feel-good hormones. These are DOSE: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins. Endorphins help to alleviate pain as they’re our body’s natural painkillers and they also help to calm and soothe because they suppress the anxiety and stress hormone cortisol. Dopamine and serotonin light up the pleasure and reward centres in the brain and give rise to feelings of satisfaction and general well-being. Serotonin in particular is a great mood-booster, so can help alleviate depression. Oxytocin is the love hormone and helps us to bond and forge closer relationships with ourselves (leading to greater self-love and self-esteem) and with others, making it easier to demonstrate connectivity, empathy and compassion.
Oxytocin also has an impact on our heart health. In the words of Dr. David Hamilton, “oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure).” Perhaps that’s why we have the impression that kind, caring people have really big hearts.
In summary, people who make kindness a lifestyle choice tend to be healthier and live longer.
Taking Positive Action
Ask yourself this question today (and every day): “How can I practise kindness today?”. This train of thought alone helps you cultivate a positive focus and as they say, where focus goes, our energy flows. To help you sow positive seeds of kindness today, why not treat someone to a massage, reflexology or facial (or go 50:50 with them if that’s too much for your pocket at the moment). To help you along, use the coupon code TREAT15 when booking, which will save you £15 on any treatment over £30. This code is valid for bookings until the end of November 2022 – so why not be spontaneous and act in kindness today. Visit the booking system here.
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. — Dalai Lama