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Why We Need More Kindness (Episode 36-39)

And How it Positively Impacts Our Health

It is late afternoon and I just slept for an hour and a half. Today is the deadline for my 36th post. This time I am writing about kindness. As part of the research for this topic, last Monday I had an interview about kindness and making someone’s day, with Howard Prager. The next morning, I woke up sick as a dog. I called off a work meeting, went back to bed and slept for six hours straight. Wednesday was the same. Sweating, fever. My joints and back hurting. My mind barely able to think straight. Only today morning it daunted on me to do a COVID-test. As you might suspect by now, I tested positive.


As I had discussed with Howard, kindness goes both ways. It’s kindness towards others, but also towards ourselves. Keeping the latter part in mind, this post will be different from what you might be used to by now. It will be shorter. I’ll do my best, but in all honesty, my head is a continuous fog.


What is kindness

Kindness is doing something for others without expecting or wanting something in return. It is marked by generosity, consideration, and concern for others. ‘Kindness is choosing to do something that helps others or yourself, motivated by genuine warm feelings. Kindness, or doing good, often means putting other people’s needs before our own’ (Rowland, 2022). Kindness is the quality of being good or benevolent as a person, towards other persons, living beings, and oneself. Kindness is what we could all do with a bit more of.


Why kindness is important

We all like to be treated well. It both feels good to be kind, but it also feels good being treated kindly. Therefore, we’d do good to practice kindness. Treat others as you’d like to be treated. ‘Kindness and appreciation show that you care about others’ (Prager, 2022). When we practice kindness, our brain produces endorphins. These are the natural pain relievers which can also enhance our moods. ‘People who are kind and compassionate see clear benefits to their wellbeing and happiness. They may even live longer. Kindness can also help reduce stress and improve our emotional wellbeing’ (Rowland, 2022). When we are kind and helpful to others, it benefits our wellbeing too. Kindness shows that someone is important to you, and you want to recognize that (Prager, 2022).


Origins of, and motivations for kindness

Although we typically consider kindness as a selfless act, it does certainly serve a purpose for those being kind. ‘Natural selection has favoured a range of evolved psychological mechanisms for taking advantages of these opportunities, and realising the benefits of cooperation. These mechanisms – kin altruism, mutualism, reciprocal altruism, and competitive altruism – make it possible to identify and explain several different types of kindness’ (Curry et. al., 2018). Find these listed below:

  • Kin altruism. Natural selection favors kindness to relatives; hence people will be kind to their family.

  • Mutualism. People will be kind to members of their communities. When we share a common interest, this inspires kindness. ‘Mutualism can explain kindness in the form of loyalty, solidarity, camaraderie, civic-mindedness, community spirit, and commitment to a cause ‘greater than oneself’ (Curry et. al., 2018).

  • Reciprocal Altruism. People will be kind to those they might meet again. Natural selection favors kindness to those we might meet again (or need) at a later date.

  • Competitive Altruism. People will be kind to others when it enhances their status.

Kindness and our health and wellbeing

During our talk, Howard mentioned how much money we spend on healthcare for drugs, tests, etcetera. Instead, when we focus on cultivating more kindness, we can achieve so many benefits at a fraction of the current spending on healthcare. ‘Groundbreaking new research shows that love, friendship, community, life’s purpose, and our environment can have a greater impact on our health than anything that happens in the doctor’s office’ (Harding, 2022). Research has found a ‘strong correlation […] between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who are emotionally and behaviorally compassionate, so long as they are not overwhelmed by helping tasks’ (Post, 2005). As Howard also mentioned during our talk, ‘we live five to eight years longer when we’re happier and kinder’ (Prager, 2022). Kindness thus, significantly and positively impacts our health.


The VIP model to kindness

As Howard rightfully argued during our talk, who doesn’t like to be treated like a Very Important Person? I think we all do. Building on this premise, and using its acronym, Howard developed a simple model for introducing more kindness into our lives. It’s comprised of three key steps, followed at his recommendation by reflection and review. I’ll list these three steps below:

  1. View and observe. What is going on around you, what can you see that people need? Awareness is key here, for the people around you and the situations and circumstances they are in. This tells you what they might need. For this step it is important to focus outwards;

  2. Identify and determine. Based on your observations, one can then determine what someone needs, and how you could help them. What are the options that you have to make a difference to that person? Go through the options and decide. ‘In this step, you increase your awareness of what may be needed through attentive listening, emotional awareness, and insight and intuition’ (Prager, 2021);

  3. Plan and act. ‘Plan your action based on your observation and what you identify that others may need’ (Prager, 2021). Although the planning element is important here according to Howard, the action ultimately is most important. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. ‘Some of the things that you can do are very simple. Sometimes it just takes a smile’ (Prager, 2022).

Self-kindness

As with love, we cannot truly be kind to other people when we cannot be kind to ourselves. This too is an important part of kindness. In both cases, when being kind towards others and ourselves, it benefits our wellbeing and health. In spirit of this, I’ll get out from the fog in my head, finish this post and get back to bed. Next time, with hopefully a clear head again, I’ll do better. For now, this will have to do. Nonetheless, I hope there was something useful to you. Please don’t forget to listen or watch the interview with Howard, as he had lots of good things to share on kindness and how to make someone's day. Enjoy!



Image: Drops of Kindness, painting by Nicolena Botha.

 

Interview


To learn more about kindness, and how we can make someone’s day, I have talked to Howard Prager, an executive coach specialized in leadership development, strategic thinking, and mentoring. Howard is alsoFounder and President of the Advance Learning Group. Throughout his professional career Howard learnt about the importance of kindness.


As he realized time and time again, it is often the small gestures that make a big difference. Through helping a young lady on a commuter train on the way to work, Howard became inspired to writing the book ‘Make Someone’s Day: Becoming a Memorable Leader in Work and Life.’ During our talk, Howard clearly illustrated he walks the talk when it comes to kindness. In case you’re looking for some inspiration for introducing more kindness into your life, you’ll enjoy this talk!



Website of Howard Prager: https://howardhprager.com




 

Sources


Curry, et. al., 2018, Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology Volume 76, May 2018, Pages 320-329. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2018.02.014


Harding, Kelli, 2020, The Rabbit Effect: Live Longer, Happier, and Healthier with the Groundbreaking Science of Kindness. https://amzn.to/3w9OYNG


Harding, Kelli, 2022, The Rabbit Effect, https://www.kellihardingmd.com/the-rabbit-effect, accessed on 5 May 2022.


Post, Stephen, 2005, Altuism, happiness, and health: it's good to be good, International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2005;12(2):66-77. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15901215/


Prager, Howard, 2021, Make Someone’s Day: Becoming a Memorable Leader in Work and Life. https://amzn.to/3w8ORSy


Rowland, Mark, 2022, Kindness Matters Guide, Mental Health Foundation, https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/kindness/kindness-matters-guide, accessed on 5 May 2022.

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