These troubled times have taught me the true value of health and wellbeing, as well as strengthened my appreciation for the society of others. I notice many acts of kindness that people are showing to each other during this time. It is the small things that matter like stopping on the opposite side of the street to talk to a stranger, or just exchanging a ‘hello’ and a smile. Several people on my street are selling off their spare plants to raise funds for local charities and the food bank. Others are lending each other gardening tools and pooling shopping or sharing ‘work from home’ tips. People seem to have slowed down with less rushed conversations and more listening. I hope that this sense of collective kindness and coming together in adversity continues when life eventually gets a reboot.
Why is kindness so important? Despite living through an unprecedented period of fear and anxiety, there is also community, support and hope. Kindness has the potential to make the world a better place for you and others. Showing kindness increases your ability to connect with others. In turn, this builds empathy resulting in stronger bonds and friendships based on shared experiences.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines kindness as “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” It seems that even small acts of kindness can increase your sense of self-worth and improve your ability to relate to others. Demonstrating compassion and selfless acts can make life not only more liveable but also more enjoyable.
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness. According to Mark Rowland, CEO of the Mental Health Foundation the theme was chosen because “kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health.”
Rowland explains that research backs up the view that kindness and our mental health are deeply connected. The research shows that kindness is an antidote to isolation and creates a sense of belonging. It helps reduce stress, brings a fresh perspective and deepens friendships. Kindness to ourselves can prevent shame from corroding our sense of identity and help boost our self-esteem. Kindness can even improve feelings of confidence and optimism.
Not sure where to start? Try the simple approach. Volunteer to help you in your local community. Pick up some litter rather than walk by. Start a virtual book club. Make a point of saying ‘hello’ to someone you don’t know. Reconnect with someone you haven’t been in contact with for a while. Check-in with an elderly relative or vulnerable neighbour. Tell someone you care about what they mean to you.
Make sure you also show some kindness towards yourself. Build moments of pause into your day just to breathe and be still for a while. Play some music that you find lifts your mood. Enjoy the feel of the sun on your face. Play with your pets. Show self-compassion during these hard times and hope for the brighter future to come.
Kindness is a choice. What will you do today to be kind to yourself and others? Remember, “kindness is a gift that everyone can afford” (anon).