By Ruth Osborn
The dictionary defines kindness as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. In our daily lives with endless to do lists, places to go and people to see, it is easy to forget to be kind – kind to ourselves, to our bodies, to those around us and to our planet. What in life is more important than kindness? How wonderful do you feel when someone is kind to you? Any random act of kindness, whether received or given, will lift the spirit, raise a smile and make all involved feel better. According to the Dalai Lama, “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes them feel loved and cared for, but it also helps us to develop inner happiness and peace.”
There are many simple ways in which we can practice kindness on a daily basis that will benefit ourselves, our communities and the wider world. It starts with being kind to yourself; for how can you bring kindness to others if you are not kind to yourself. Most challenging is to be kind to yourself on difficult days – the ones where things don’t work out quite the way you want them to. If you hear your inner voice saying something unkind to yourself just let that thought go and replace it with a kinder one. Remember that you always have the choice to be kind, and to speak to yourself the way you would speak to your best friend. Silence your inner critic and replace it with an encouraging and kind coach. Over time you can reprogram your thinking so that kindness becomes a natural part of how you are.
Acting with kindness is beneficial not only to your state of mind, but to your overall health and wellbeing as well. It activates chemical processes in your body that make you feel good. When you act kindly the brain releases natural versions of morphine (endogenous opioids) into your bloodstream which results in feelings of happiness. Kindness is also good for the health of your heart and your cardiovascular system. You may actually experience a feeling of warmth when you act kindly. That warmth comes from the hormone oxytocin which helps to reduce blood pressure. Practicing kindness is also an inexpensive way to keep you looking and feeling younger. The release of oxytocin can slow down the ageing process by reducing the levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system. Free radicals and inflammation play major roles in heart disease too, so kindness is the perfect remedy for keeping your heart healthy.
Not only will practicing kindness improve your relationship with yourself and with others, but kindness is also contagious. By being kind you will inspire others to do the same, thus creating a ripple effect of kindness and good feeling. The Buddhist meditation practice of Metta Bhavna can help us to spread the feeling of kindness. This practice starts with experiencing loving kindness towards yourself… then you extend that loving kindness to those close to you… then to those you do not know… to those you have a difficult relationship with… and finally to all beings. You do not need to be Buddhist to practice this simple method of developing loving kindness, and practicing it regularly can transform how you feel about yourself and the world around you. In the words of the Dalai Lama: “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”