The maxim “Do Unto Others” holds secrets far beyond the Golden Rule. Demonstrating kindness has actually been shown to create a number of benefits, including happier lives, reduced stress and healthier bodies.
In a study, Kathleen Lawler of the University of Tennessee and Rachel Piferi of Johns Hopkins University reported lowered blood pressure in people who gave social support to others. “Participants with a higher tendency to give social support reported receiving greater social support, greater self-efficacy and self-esteem, less depression and less stress.”
In addition, the body reacts to kindness chemically by elevating its endogenous opioids that in turn create elevated levels of dopamine in the brain that create a natural high. The oxytocin we produce when socially bonding also reduces inflammation in our cardiovascular system, slowing aging and generating stronger heart health.
To fully enjoy the benefits, here are eight ways to add kindness to your daily life.
1. Decide to be kind.
Each morning, tell yourself that you will focus on being kind. Set your mind and body toward that goal and it will soon become a habit.
2. Increase your awareness.
Start noticing kindness; it’s all around you, if you just look for it. Many of us go through our days with our heads down (often buried in our electronic devices). Raise your awareness level of others around you and you will begin to notice the kindness of others.
3. Be appreciative.
If someone shows you a kindness, no matter how small, appreciate it. Instead of brushing it off or saying “you didn’t have to do that,” simply say “thank you.” The act of giving provides immense pleasure, so don’t minimize the other person’s enjoyment of their decision to be kind to you.
4. Look for opportunities to be kind.
Something as simple as a compliment or paying attention in a conversation are kind gestures. So are volunteering to help someone in need. Some people channel their kindness efforts into charitable causes; others make it a point to perform at least one act of kindness every day as they progress through the day. Choose the goodwill channel that makes you feel good.
Smiling not only creates good feelings within yourself, it cheers others. Be sure to give a true smile, and not a fake one. One of the best ways to make your smile more genuine and real comes from researcher Andrew Newberg: “We just asked a person, before they engage in a conversation with someone else to visualize someone they deeply love, or recall an event that brought them deep satisfaction and joy.”
6. Be kind to yourself.
We’re often too hard on ourselves, and we don’t need to be. You, too, deserve the kindness you may only reserve for those around you. Treat your mind by giving yourself a break, and your body with healthy delights like a massage.
7. Be kind to the people closest to you.
So often we take for granted the people who are closest to us, snapping at them, or not truly listening. Whenever you lose your temper, apologize immediately. Forgive and make amends with those you haven’t spoken to in years. At least you will feel lighter knowing you did the right thing. Start to notice how your kindness can make others glow with affection toward you and notice how your indifference can create distance.
8. Keep a kindness journal.
At the end of the day, reflect on all the kindnesses you’ve shared and those you’ve received. Jot them down in a journal. You might be surprised just how many times you made an effort. As an additional exercise, write down those missed opportunities where you could have been kind—or kinder.
Kindness is contagious and that little act of graciousness you provide to someone else will most likely spread to others in a “pay it forward” way.