The past two months have been like a chapter in a book of horrors. Every passing day comes with a new set of horrific stories of people losing their jobs, walking in search of a home, losing their loved ones to the virus, and it can get overwhelming. It feels like our lives have come to a halt, while thousands are still fighting for theirs. If you are reading this article today, and your loved ones are safe and sound, you and I have to believe that we are among the blessed ones.
Be grateful for the small joys like living in your PJs all day, or for the bigger ones like the wellbeing of your family, the gift of time with your loved ones, the joy of self-exploration, and home-cooked meals. Be grateful for the good that surrounds you.
Of late, social media is quite filled with feeds and clips of celebrities doing random act of kindness or RAOK, which probably you must have seen. But when we say random, we don’t imply insignificant. These are not premeditated or perpetrated acts like baking a cake for a friend’s birthday, buying a new toy for your child or helping a friend with their business venture.
“They come from the heart, seek no reward or recognition, and in my opinion, they create a rippling effect of goodness, and could motivate the recipient of the kindness to spread it further,” explains psychiatrist Dr Shefali Batra. It means doing something to an unknown person either to offer a helping hand or to make that person feel good, that too without any vested interest. The acts are unplanned, spontaneous, simple, instinctive; and typically don’t cost much. “It is usually believed that these random acts of kindness are performed by kind people only; but, it is not completely true because we all have some element of kindness in us,” claims psychologist Sanjoy Mukerji.
Psychology & the science of kindness
“Psychology of kindness says that you cannot be kind to others, in the real sense of the word and that too for long time; without being kind to your own self. Have you ever noticed how much better you treat others when you have taken care of yourself? True kindness to others begins with loving yourself first. As within, so without,” declares Sanjoy. Kindness has cognitive, emotional as well as behavioural constructs. At the cognitive level, it involves a willingness to place the needs of another in high importance and wanting to fulfil them with the intention of helping and supporting.
“At an emotional level, it’s about expressing compassion, and feeling gratitude. And at the behavioural level, kindness is engaging and it enhances the interconnectedness between people,” specifies Dr Shefali. Research repeatedly states that those who are kind, are happier, less stressed, more successful, and better accomplished and content with their lives. “Kindness also releases dopamine in the reward centre of the brain that gives a unique high. At a bodily level, kind people have better immune system responses and fight illness better. They are superior performers at the workplace; make better partners and are more compassionate parents so their kids obey them too,” she further adds. All this itself makes them happier, adds meaning to their lives and enhances holistic wellness.
The gains from giving
Giving is a part of the law of giving (and receiving), because the universe operates through dynamic exchange. Nothing is static or stagnant. But when we make up our mind to think good, be good and do good, kindness becomes a way of existing and being. Well, regular and repeated acts of kindness can eventually increase your feelings of faith, forgiveness, love, peace, joy, happiness, energy; and decrease your feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, guilt, grudge, grief, hatred, resentment, vengeance, pain, stress, anger, anxiety, depression, also reduce blood pressure; and thereby improve your health and wellbeing, over a period of time.
“About half of participants in one study reported that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth. Perpetually kind people have 23% less cortisol (the stress hormone) and age slower than the average population,” mentions Sanjoy. “The positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brains of everyone who witnessed the act, improving their mood and making them significantly more likely to ‘pay it forward’. This means one good deed in a crowded area can create a domino effect and improve the day of dozens of people,” he further adds. It also uplifts us spiritually and as Dalai Lama says, “if you want to be truly selfish, help someone.”
Kindness in children
“It is essential to inculcate the habit of a random act of kindness not just in children but in everyone. If we start at a young age it becomes a natural habit and one has to put no effort in looking for the opportunities,” says a home-maker Kavita Banthia. In child development, this habit can help them become better human beings. It also goes beyond good manners and when the kid learns and practices kindness, they becomes more sensitive towards the feelings of others. “It develops a feeling of empathy in them from a very early age, which can reduce aggression and violence,” says Sanjoy.
Studies have shown that children who can’t make friends in childhood find it very hard to socialise and make friends in adulthood. “Act of kindness teaches them the reality of social life. Otherwise they may end up believing that the rat race to achieve more marks, better degrees, goods jobs, fancy cars is the only important thing in life,” points out psychiatrist Dr Chinmay Kulkarni. Children who know how to be kind grow up to be friendly, generous, considerate, empathic, and confident winners in life. Aatman plans on inculcating this habit in a kid by blocking filters and creating an empathetic mind.
“Filters are the unconscious biases we have against someone based on religion, caste, gender, colour, species or even social status. Once we get past those filters, it’s a lot easier to be able to help someone. Empathy, on the other hand, helps to accurately help someone. One must understand the situation someone is in to be able to help appropriately, he explains.”
Ways to practise
There is no structured curriculum that teaches one how to be kind. “I believe innately we know how to be kind. All we need to do, until the time this becomes a habit, is to repeatedly remind ourselves to consciously be nice, speak politely, offer gratitude, and do little things that make a difference,” clarifies Dr Shefali. We need not spend too much time on these things. There are many opportunities to be nice, we just have to grab them and make kindness our personality. “When I drive on the road, I let people into my lane without getting upset. I always think that this person will remember that I let him in, and it might lighten his mood and make him nicer to someone else. At the grocery store I think it’s so important to ask the cashier how her day went and why she looked tired, or did she work over time? Seemingly this does not make a difference to me, but what really matters is that she might go home happy knowing that someone cares,” she further adds.
A software developer, Aatman Kothari practises random act of kindness almost every day – be it helping a newbie at the office, feeding an animal or giving the kid a ride to his school on his way to work. Kavita says people usually mistaken it thinking it could be done with just material things or donations whereas she practices it by offering her spot in the queue, consoling words, listening with a kind heart (no suggestion or judgement) and giving rides to others.
“I do it almost every day as my work involves helping, guiding and advising people with kindness, and thereby healing them and the feeling of giving is really very beautiful, something divine and blissful; I feel as if I am blessed with unique talents to help ailing people,” concludes Sanjoy. It’s a lesson in humility andnot to forget nicety begets nicety. So, use the gratitude wand to change everything for yourself this lockdown.
Pro Tip: There’s a gift in every experience, even the difficult ones. To uncover the gift, be grateful for what you have.