The Power of Random Acts of Kindness

By: Joni Boyd

We all know how good it feels to be on the receiving end of unexpected kindness – but what about the person who performs this generous act? What impact does it have on them?

“Studies have shown that people who show kindness and compassion are more likely to experience an increased sense of general wellbeing,” says Nicholas Marks, CEO of Australian Institute of Family Counselling (AIFC).

“Showing kindness produces the feel-good hormones in our body; dopamine into the brain that lifts our mood, and oxytocin which sends warm feelings through our body.”

And – showing kindness is a great way to impact the world around us.

“Kindness is contagious, it spreads out into the lives of those around us,” Nicholas says.

Not surprisingly, the Bible agrees that kindness is good for us. “Proverbs 16:24 (NLT) tells us what neuroscience now confirms,” Nicholas says.

“‘Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body’ – ours and others. Maybe the saying should be – you are what you eat and what you do!”

The science behind kindness impacting mental health

When we show kindness, we release oxytocin into our body.

“Not only does oxytocin increase our happiness levels, which in turn reduces our stress levels, it has also now been linked to reducing free radicals in our body,” Nicholas says.

“So, in essence, the kinder we are the more likely we are to have lower levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in our bodies which in turn alleviates free radicals and reduces inflammation.”

Ohio State University report Healing through helping: an experimental investigation of kindness, social activities, and reappraisal as well-being interventions, tells us that one of the reasons we feel so much better when we do a good deed, is because it helps us to focus on others.

“Given that self-focused attention is linked with emotional distress and impaired social functioning, reducing self-focused attention may result in subsequent improvements in social connection and well-being,” the report says.

Whenever we do something kind for someone, it requires us to be thinking about them and their needs, rather than only focusing on our own, even if only for a moment.

“Therefore, completing acts of kindness may reduce self-focused attention, which in turn may drive improvements in social connection and other dimensions of well-being.”

Kindness can be a healthy distraction

Thinking about how we can show kindness to someone else, takes the focus off our own situation, Nicholas explains and says that the thing he loves most about kindness is that it’s a choice we can make, irrespective of our circumstances.

“Instead of being inward focused, I have become outward focused. I am not dwelling on my circumstances.

“As the apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:8 (NIV), ‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.’ And then later on in the chapter he says, ‘I have learned to be content… (Phillipians 4:11 NIV).’

How to be kind on a bad day

We’ve all had days where we’re frustrated and find ourselves looking for someone to take our anger out on. On these days, kindness can feel like the hardest thing to do.

Nicholas believes that gratitude is what changes everything.

“Kindness is underpinned by gratitude,” he says. “Being grateful and truly thankful for the many good things in our life, even when things are difficult. Gratitude opens up our perspective and allows us to be present. Presence in turn helps us notice and pay attention to others.

“This ‘other focussed presence’ is essentially what creates the opportunity for us to practice kindness.”

Another key, he says, is practice.

“Kindness is a virtue and like a muscle in our body, the more we use, the stronger it gets. So, practicing kindness becomes important and the good news is, it grows, and we come to realise there are many, many opportunities for kindness to be practiced.”

How has kindness impacted you?

Why not take a moment to remember how another person’s kindness has impacted you? This can be a helpful motivation to bestow the same on others.

“I remember a time when I was in school and having a particularly hard time of it,” Nicholas recalls. “One of my teachers noticed and was paying attention and was kind enough to check in on me.  Though I didn’t have the words or awareness of it back then, I recall now that he was very present in the discussion, listened intently, smiled and spoke some kind words into my situation.

“I don’t remember the words he actually said but the act of kindness has stayed with me to this day.”

And in essence, this is the power of random acts of kindness – they stay with people for a very long time, if not for a lifetime.

Is Australia a kind nation?

According to McCrindle, Aussies are pretty kind.

“Kindness is part of Australia’s fabric,” the report says. “Not only do Australians believe the culture of kindness in Australia is stronger than the rest of the world (62%), but they’re also living that out in their daily lives.”

McCrindle reports that the average Australian performs 16 acts of kindness every week, whether that be through speaking kindly, performing a kind deed or by being generous with their time.

Interestingly, we report only receiving an average of six kind acts per week, a reminder to proactively notice the kindness of someone else, taking a moment to show appreciation.

Most common among our acts of kindness are asking someone if they’re ok (67%), giving someone a compliment (68%) and holding the door or lift open for someone (72%).

And while 25% of us feel very much outside out comfort zone when showing kindness, the future is looking bright, when it comes to the kindness of future generations.

“Younger generations scored the highest in the kindness index, with a score of 77 out of 100,” the report says. “ Gen Y and Gen X scored 74, while the Baby Boomers and the Builders scored 71.”

Though the youngsters are leading the way, the scores are pretty good, across the board!

McCrindle asked Aussies how we can all be kinder to each other. 67% of us would like to be asked more often if we’re ok, while 64% would like a helping hand when needed and 62% of us would like to be able to say ‘hi’ more often.

Kindness is good for the workplace

The workplace is a great place to practice kindness.

“It takes just one person to change the culture of an environment,” Nicholas says. “The kindness spreads and very soon the office atmosphere is different.  The workplace is a healthier, a happier place to be. I encourage you to put it to the test today.

“It can be as simple as telling them why you appreciate them, offering a smile, asking them how they are doing, bringing them a coffee or sharing an encouraging bible verse. Notice their reaction and also what happens in your mind and body. It costs nothing to be kind but the impact it can have on your mental health and those around you is priceless.”

Anna Frank’s words resonate as much now as they did when she wrote them during World War II.

“How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straight away… and you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!”

Who can you be kind to today?

Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.

Feature image: Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash