Guest Post: Julie Buchwald on Kindness

My dear friend Julie Buchwald was kind enough to do a “Guest Post” for the blog, which is so insightful and an amazing read. Enjoy!

“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and that the blind can see…”

I try to live life in a way that involves what I like to call a “generosity of spirit.”  What does this really mean?  I have noted that I am happier the more generous I am and the less fixated I am on myself.  And when I think about why Wendy’s #imkinderthanthat campaign has caught on so fervently for so many people, I note that there is a cumulative domino effect that is happening here.  And it’s this cumulative effect that cultivates a mass generosity of spirit.

Arguably, since Wendy has been engaged in this project, I would put money on the idea that she is happier because of it – happier because she is engaged with doing kind things for others, and because others are, in turn, doing kind things both for themselves and other people as well.  It just keeps going and going… more and more kindness leads to more and more generosity, and better, more enriched lives.  More small acts of goodwill and more #imkinderthanthat T-shirts too.

Various research, in fact, does promote a critical connection between kindness and happiness – that doing unto others in a positive way can, indeed, also help to improve your own levels of health, sense of wellbeing, and ultimately happiness.

I picked up a magazine around the start of the New Year entitled “The Secret of Happiness,” because I am always interested in reading about this stuff and learning about how we can collectively create a more empathetic and more evolved society.  An entire segment of the magazine is devoted to what is referred to as “The Kindness Connection.”  Some of that research can be summarized as follows:

  1. We are hard wired for kindness and compassion. These qualities are said to be fundamental to our survival as a species.

Think about that for a second.  Our mere survival depends on kindness.  In my mind, you don’t have to look too far to find examples of a world where we benefit from kindness, and examples of a world where plain old mean-spiritedness and hate take precedence.  To me, one version of the world is so morally superior than the other.  I believe there is a built-in societal element that effectively functions to weed out those who are not kind and – eventually, most of the time – send them out to pasture.  Or if we aren’t able to take some sort of societal action, I believe karma has a way of handling these unkind and evil elements.

But bottom line and regardless of evolution, how do we cultivate more kindness, and therefore, more happiness in our lives?

  1. The answer is in our predisposition to be giving and generous toward others, which makes us healthier and more satisfied humans ourselves.

According to a University of Zurich study, participants were asked to either spend money on others or on themselves.  The givers had significantly higher levels of self-reported happiness compared to those who were not as generous.  In another survey of 4,582 adults, 68% of those who engaged in volunteer activities (about 100 hours per year) reported that doing such volunteer work made them physically healthier, 92% said it enriched their sense of purpose, 89% said it improved their well-being, 73% said it lowered stress, and 77% said it improved their physical health.

Additional research shows that kindness can also help improve signs of depression, anxiety, and social isolation in teens; improve body image; and even strengthen romantic relationships.

  1. Ultimately, it is not enough to have the intent to be kind or self-perpetuating thoughts about kindness. To create the kindness/happiness connection, there must be some action taken to further that intention.  Massachusetts Ph.D. Tara Cousineau notes that kindness can be described as “Love in action… kindness is both a quality of loving presence and an orientation to life that is intentional and active.”

Bottom line, if you want to experience the full benefits of kindness as a virtue in your life, there needs to be some sort of intent behind your actions.  Or as another way of saying it, we need to engage in acts that are both kind to others and that can deepen the full range of positive emotions for ourselves, if we want to benefit as much as possible.

I like this concept of kindness as love in action.  Because that matches my belief about the utility of kindness as something that can actually change the world.  I think it’s only if your actions match your intent and what is in your heart that the happiness connection can even have a chance.  Bottom line… the key to being a happier person yourself is enhancing the happiness of those around you everyday through how you act.  This will double or triple your own happiness levels.  It’s only if you satisfy this secondary element of being kind toward others through specific actions that the multiplier happiness effect can occur.

Some examples of simple, kind acts, courtesy of the Happiness magazine:

  1. Smile at others.
  2. Say, “I love you,” offer a hug, or give a high-five.
  3. Clean up the dirty dishes in the sink, even if they’re not yours.
  4. Buy a cup of coffee, or pay a toll for the person in back of you.
  5. Compliment three people in a day – it will improve your own attitude.
  6. Phone a friend instead of sending a text – old school can be more meaningful.
  7. Donate to a cause and let others know you did; generosity can be contagious.
  8. Talk to a homeless person or someone completely outside your usual circle.
  9. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, food bank, or for another cause important to you.
  10. Pick up trash on your street and in your neighborhood.

If you start with a few, small, yet meaningful gestures, you will be on your way toward love in action, and, in turn, on your way to changing the world.

Wendy, we all know that where kindness is concerned, your multiplier effect has taken off like a rocket ship to the moon.  May we all strive to be as kind as you.  In good health and happiness,… three cheers for all the kind you are perpetuating in the world!