If you think about it, it really doesn’t take a lot of time and effort (or money, for that matter) to do nice things for others. Whether it’s texting a friend who’s been a bit quiet lately to check in with them or offering to take something off a colleague’s plate when they’re up against it with deadlines, there are so many small acts that make a big difference. The even better news? Being kind, scientifically speaking, actually helps you to live longer. A 2017 study published in Evolution and Human Behaviour found that people who were occasional voluntary caregivers to others lived longer than individuals who weren’t. Keen to reap those longevity benefits? Our experts reveal why it’s cool to be kind.
1 Celebrate the small stuff
There are so many big occasions that justify a ‘congratulations!’ card, but it’s not just the engagements and promotions that are worth popping a cork for. Maybe your partner is trying to cut out caffeine and they’ve just chosen a decaf green tea over a coffee or one of your friends made their Zumba class even though they sent you a voice note beforehand saying how tired they were. Paying attention and being aware of these little wins can go a long way in your personal and professional life, says mindset and marketing coach Isabella Venour, (mind-style.co.uk). “It’s often easier for us to notice the things that haven’t been done perfectly or the actions that irritate us, and this means we can easily let positive actions pass us by without acknowledging them. Next time you think something nice about a colleague, for example, let them know. It could be that they offered a useful solution to a problem, you love their outfit or are impressed by how calm they appear in the face of a tight deadline. It’s a small gesture that can go a long way to improving their day and morale.” Amen!
2 Give someone space
Being a good listener means you can have constructive conversations and gain some perspective of how the other person is feeling, whether that be with family members, friends or your partner. Plus, know that it’s OK not to have all the answers, and simply being a soundboard for someone who may be struggling with their mental health can make a world of difference. “If someone you know is finding it difficult, let them know that you’re there,” suggests head of information expert at mental health charity Mind, Stephen Buckley. “Try to stay calm and reassure them by letting them know that they are not alone, and that you will be there to help. If the person you’re supporting is struggling with day-to-day tasks, ask them if there are any specific practical ways you could help them. Look after your own wellbeing [too so] that you have the time and energy to help someone when they need it.”
3 Express your gratitude
Got a regular gratitude journaling practice going? Good for you. The benefits are rock-solid, after all. When we practise gratitude, our brains release dopamine and serotonin, which affect our emotions and lifts our mood. But being thankful goes way beyond a fluffy exercise of putting pen to paper. When we’re busy with day-to-day life, it’s normal to forget how lucky we really are, so extending our gratitude is also a great way to increase connections between friends or loved ones – a simple ‘I appreciate you,’ or ‘I’m grateful for you’ might be exactly what they need to hear to turn their day around and get a boost of those happy hormones.
4 Don’t forget about the planet
Sure, holding the door open for someone or putting coins in the car park machine for a stranger are all valid random acts of kindness – and it may be worth offering these to the world around us too. One of the biggest ways we impact the environment is by creating a huge amount of plastic waste so John Haken, director at WF Denny, specialists in biodegradable packaging (wfdenny.co.uk), recommends a sustainable approach as an act of kindness. “Shop items packaged in cardboard, foil or recyclable plastics where possible – the recycling information will advise you of the materials used. When buying fresh fruit and vegetables, try choosing loose items without the extra packaging.”
5 Show yourself some love
We can often be our own harshest critics, so a helpful tip is to try to imagine how a kindness coach might help us approach the complexities and difficulties that life throws at us. For example, after eating a whole pack of biscuits, your inner critic may say something like, “you should be ashamed,”. A compassionate coach on the other hand would take a more encouraging approach, saying: “I know you ate those biscuits because you were feeling bored and lonely, but why don’t you try a long walk instead next time?” Think about the words you might say to someone else who was feeling low and needed encouragement. Now use the same words and phrases to positively encourage yourself.
6 Reach out
Touch definitely shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to spreading love and kindness. The simple act of cuddling (or any positive physical contact) ramps up oxytocin, making us feel safe, loved and connected. “Oxytocin is released in an area of your brain called the hypothalamus; human touch leads to the release of oxytocin. This could be from holding hands, hugging, kissing and sexual intercourse,” explains Dr Deborah Lee, a medical writer at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy (doctorfox.co.uk). Home alone? Hugging yourself can actually provide the same benefits, or if you’ve got a furry companion, cuddling a pet will also do the trick. As if you needed any more reasons to cuddle your dog though, right? We didn’t think so!
7 Be a role model
Kids pick up on good character traits and positive qualities, and they are witness to more interactions than we think. They need guidance as to the certain behaviour that cultivates good choices – and that’s where role models come in. This might seem like a given, but it’s so important for people and younger children, in particular, to see examples of kindness and respect towards others. Whether that’s explaining to them why you’re helping someone out of a difficult situation or simply being kind to strangers you meet when running your errands, children learn kindness from observing positive interactions.