At a time of deep political and social polarization, distrust, fear and acrimony, it’s heartening to learn of a new university research center devoted solely to kindness.
Recently, UCLA announced the launch of the Bedari Kindness Institute, a group of scholars who will take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding kindness in all its effects — psychological, physical and social. Its goals are ambitious: “to support world-class research on kindness, create opportunities to translate that research into real-world practices, and serve as a global platform to educate and communicate its findings.” It aims “to empower citizens and inspire leaders to build more humane societies.”
Researchers at other institutions have also studied the positive mental and physical effects of kindness on the people who perform kind acts. For example, one study found that 50 percent of participants said they felt stronger, calmer, more energetic and less depressed after assisting others. Other research has confirmed that acts of kindness release the “love hormone” oxycontin, which helps to lower blood pressure and improve overall heart health. Still another study found that regularly kind people have 23 percent less of the stress hormone cortisol in their systems. And altruistic people are happier people, according to the cross-cultural “happiness” survey conducted in 136 countries.
Clearly kindness has a lot going for it. Kind acts and the good feelings that go with them can improve your physical and emotional well-being — and maybe extend your life.
Can kindness be learned? Yes, say educators who have developed formal curricula for promoting kindness in the classroom. But what about for adults? Again yes. One study done at the University of Wisconsin confirmed that compassion and altruism can be developed in young adults with training and practice.
Are there ways for you to cultivate kindliness in your life? Here are some suggestions:
- Be aware of the effect you have on other people. Having a bad day? Don’t take your frustrations out on innocent bystanders.
- Connect with other people, even for a brief moment. Hold open a door for a stranger. Smile and thank the cashier who rings up your groceries. Smile and be the first to wave the other driver through an intersection.
- Just listen. Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for a friend or loved one going through difficulty is simply to listen to them without judgement or offering advice.
- Practice kindness unconditionally. Don’t judge who deserves or doesn’t deserve your acts of kindness. True kindness is offered freely to everyone.
- Consider not boasting about your kind acts. True kindness doesn’t need the recognition of others.
- Try the metta or lovingkindness meditation taught by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, This practice develops understanding, love, and compassion for ourselves and others.
- Check out many more tips for expressing kindness at the Random Acts of Kindness and Ripple Kindness Project websites.
Kindness — the selfless regard for the needs and welfare of others — is one of the most important aspects of a happier life. Putting it into practice is worth the effort!