What’s In It for Me?

“When you carry out acts of kindness you get a wonderful feeling inside. It is as though something inside your body responds and says, yes, this is how I ought to feel.” ~Harold Kushner

DSCN3278It’s not crass to ask about the personal benefits of being kind. Neither is it selfish. It’s both healthy and human to think about how our behaviors might reward or punish us, and most of us naturally gravitate toward the actions and attitudes that reward us in some way. Kindness is just such a benefactor. Let’s look at all the good reasons to step up our kindness and also try to expand it in the world around us:

On the health front: when we experience kindness—whether directly or even just witnessing it—our body produces the hormones serotonin and oxytocin, which lower our blood pressure, reduce inflammation, fight heart disease, and slow aging.

The endorphins kindness produces in us have been shown to reduce chronic pain, increase happiness, boost the body’s immune system, decrease depression, and offer us an overall feeling of well-being. In the last month, a new study was released showing that kindness is as effective or more effective than drugs or therapy in relieving serious anxiety or depression.

If kindness were a prescription medication or vitamin, we’d call it a miracle drug.

The business case for kindness: There’s abundant evidence that businesses with kind cultures are more successful. They consistently have:

  • higher profits
  • higher productivity
  • better customer service
  • healthier employees and fewer absences
  • far lower employee turnover
  • greater employee engagement and commitment, and
  • an atmosphere where learning, collaboration and innovation are more likely to flourish.

Having been a business owner for more than 30 years, I know that these benefits are huge—and very often mean the difference between success and failure. In business, kindness really is your competitive advantage. 

Other great reasons to choose kindness: For people who may be painfully or even debilitatingly shy, kindness has been shown to alleviate social anxiety. There’s also research showing that kind people have less stress, live longer, sleep better, they’re more creative, have greater overall life satisfaction, and they’re more attractive to potential mates and life partners.

With all this evidence of the benefits we derive from kindness, wouldn’t you think we’d all be swimming in it? But we’re not. What’s the catch?

The catch, I suppose, is that there is some effort involved. There isn’t a kindness switch we can just flip on that makes us kind, patient, tolerant, and understanding. Kindness takes awareness and it takes practice. Lots and lots and lots of practice.

Like anything we want to do well—play tennis, strum the guitar, write well, bake a decent souffle—we improve with practice. And soon we start noticing that it’s become easier, and it’s fun, and we start looking for more opportunities to extend kindness. That’s when things become magical!

There are a few words that contain the secret of a successful and satisfying life. One of those words, I think, is practice. Wayne Muller offers us another….

“The heart of most spiritual practice is simply this: Remember. Remember who you are. Remember what you love. Remember what is sacred. Remember what is true. Remember that you will die, and that this day is a gift. Remember how you wish to live.” ~Wayne Muller

19 thoughts on “What’s In It for Me?

  1. I’ve never thought of the question you ask in reference to kindness. I’ve heard people say that when talking about making deals. I suppose if you have a transactional mindset then anything that takes effort, and kindness does, then you’re primed to ask that question. Food for thought with this one.

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    • Exactly, Janis! I was just reading today about how our brains grow and change when we develop a new skill or instill a habit. Even a curmudgeon can change his default settings…(not that I know any curmudgeons!).

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  2. You’er right, kindness rewards both parties. I’ve always believed that we tend to get out of life pretty much what we put into it. If we spend our days being mean and selfish, we’re not going to lead a very good life!

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    • So true, Ann, if we spend our time looking for things to criticize and scorn, we teach ourselves to be critical, scornful people–and then we wonder why nobody wants to spend time with us!

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  3. I never thought of kindness as something that requires practice but I think you’re right. Like anything worth doing in life. A profound message Donna and I love Wayne Fuller’s words too.

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