We could use lots of words to describe someone who is kind: considerate, giving, affectionate, altruistic, amicable, charitable, compassionate, friendly, humane, loving… the list goes on. It seems however that all of these words carry a different quality.
Research has shown that there is a positive correlation between happiness and kindness.
Kindness can be taught, and can have a domino effect on others. The more self-aware you are, the more you can empathise with others and acknowledge the differences and difficulties that not only you face, but others face. With more appreciation and gratitude, the more understanding you gain of what is “right”, and by extension you become kinder.
Biologically, it triggers parts of the brain associated with positive emotions, pleasure, and creates similar effects to that of exercise. Psychologically, it falls under the umbrella of positive psychology, where one is encouraged to look at positive characteristics and behaviours.
Many of those struggling with eating disorders are plagued by negative thoughts drawing attention away from the positive aspects of their lives. It’s easy for an onlooker to say “think positive” but actually achieving this can be difficult.
They are very self sacrificial in their acts of kindness and will go totally out of their way, literally and metaphorically, to help out other people. Often they will change their behaviour, even thoughts, to please others. It is important to note this is usually not an act of kindness. In being kind to others or not, there usually needs to be self care. By buying your friend a cup of coffee when they’ve forgotten their purse, for example, as long as you have enough money, you’re showing your friend you care about them. If buying the coffee would take you to your last penny this might not be such a great idea, and by being honest with the friend you could still have a great catch up with them drinking tap water.
It might seem like there is no kindness whatsoever in the second example (where the friend drinks tap water instead of coffee). However, keeping enough money to get the bus home is a great act of kindness, to yourself. Kindness to yourself helps you to learn to value yourself and fulfil your own needs, essential to recovery and wellbeing. In looking after yourself you enable yourself to be the best you can be for everyone around you.
Through being compassionate to others your ability for empathy increases too. Selfless acts not only make someone else feel better but also will make you feel good. The more empathy you have, the better you can know yourself and other people. Thinking about other people helps to develop relationships and through the nurturing of social relationships comes the feeling of connection, meaning and reduced isolation.
It is easier to build the positive than get rid of the negative. Exercising kindness and gratitude is part of developing the capacity to tame the critic, it empowers and supports your well voice and enables you to feel great, hopeful and happy.
You can give yourself far more than anyone else can give you because you are usually more in tune with what you want and need in any moment than anyone else. A good general way to respond to yourself in kindness is to tune in to yourself in any situation where you feel uncomfortable. Imagine you are with a child who feels the same as you. What would the child you want in this situation? Then see how you could pacify the stressed child. If, like many, you find this difficult, you might not be addressing the deeper issues such as why you don’t feel you can do these things for yourself, but alongside this work, acts of self kindness can really help you. It also can help you to discover your identity, as part of this is the things you want and need from life.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
Cultivating an attitude of compassion and gratitude helps you appreciate what you have already in your life. By focusing on the positive and what you are grateful for, you are slowly tapping into a way of changing your attitude from negative to positive. This can take your focus away from feelings of deprivation lack and bring you a deeper sense of happiness and contentment. Look around you – what do you have to be grateful for? Everyday aim to write 3-5 things in which you are grateful for. There are no correct answers, whatever you feel thankful for can vary tremendously from ‘I have people in my life that appreciated me today’ to ‘the sky is a beautiful colour today’… and that’s ok.
We’ve compiled a list of some slightly unusual but real life acts of self kindness, beyond having a bath, which could help to keep you in a great relationship with yourself and others:
- If you’re scared of something, ease the fear for yourself as much as possible. e.g. if you find yourself anxious in the dark, invest in a little keyring torch or a night light to make it easier. In eating disorders, if you’re anxious about eating, put steps in place to make it easier, whether it’s seeking the help of a therapist or dietician or eating with a friend.
- If you’re sitting in a train carriage with someone who’s making you feel uncomfortable somehow, whether they’re making creepy eye contact or sneezing ceaselessly next to you, do yourself a favour and move to the next carriage, or possibly further.
- Allow yourself to focus on doing nothing but your favourite hobby for an afternoon. Whether it’s painting, sewing or jewellery-making you can give yourself the gift of time to spend on something you really enjoy.
- Make up your bed with comfortable pillows, sprinkle lavender oil over them and lay there for a while before bed.
- Be kind to yourself when you’re ill. If you think it’s needed, go to the doctor to get medical advice. It’s important to remember you are not your own doctor and no problem is too big or small for them. Letting yourself see a medical professional is giving yourself the gift of health.
- Reward yourself when you’ve tried hard at something or gone through a tough time recently.
- Reward yourself when you think you haven’t done anything to deserve a reward but you want one. Buy a book, watch your favourite TV show or movie a few times, get yourself some new art materials.
- Go to bed earlier than usual and wake up earlier than usual so that you’re well-rested. You’ll find yourself appreciating this gift when you’re feeling more ready for the day ahead.
- An important note about money: spending money in excess can be just as unkind as not spending any money on yourself as it can put you into stressful situations further down the line. Buying yourself something can be lovely but in the true spirit of kindness it should only be something you can feasibly afford.
Here at the Recover Clinic we run a meditation session which usually includes a loving kindness meditation. Many of our clients struggle with this, especially when we ask them to extend that loving kindness to themselves as well as others. Practising acts of kindness can therefore be important to recovery in several ways:
They develop your compassionate and loving side
If you learn to give attention to and develop those feelings of kindness towards others then you are strengthening that side of yourself and are working towards being able to extend those feelings towards yourself.
They shift your negative self-talk
It can take you away from your internal dialogue shifting your internal state to think about others.
They keep you grounded
It involves an element of mindfulness and by being in touch with what makes others happy and paying attention to how you can act kindly, you can become more aware of how you should be acting with yourself – learning to nurture yourself as well as others.
They are essential to our well-being
Random acts of kindness can liberate us from self-obsession, selfishness, and isolation. The most powerful act of generosity is giving without expectation or desire to be repaid in any form, whether we give it to friends, family or even strangers.
If you put kindness out in the world, you’ll attract kindness back to you.