Let’s Talk About… Kindness

By Jeremy Godwin.

Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast about improving your mental health and wellbeing by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on one specific topic and is full of practical advice for improving and maintaining your mental health and wellbeing.

This is Episode 41 and this week I’m talking about kindness – I’ll be discussing what it is, how kindness can improve your mental health and wellbeing, and how to be kinder to yourself and to others. Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below or continue reading for the article/transcript version. Let’s talk!

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FIVE-POINT EPISODE SUMMARY
  • Being kind, to both ourselves and others, is one of the biggest things that you can do to improve your overall wellbeing and help to make a much better world for us all.
  • It’s about how you behave towards other people as well as how you behave towards yourself; the things you do, as well as how you think about yourself and speak to yourself.
  • Kindness involves being respectful to others and treating them as you would want to be treated by them, as well as treating yourself with respect.
  • Multiple studies have found that practicing kindness increases the so-called “happiness hormones” serotonin and dopamine, whilst unkind feelings (like guilt, anger and jealousy) can increase cortisol levels (which may cause long-term health issues such as weight gain and weakened immune function).
  • When we consciously treat ourselves with kindness and act in kind ways towards other people, what we are doing is helping ourselves and others to experience a little moment of genuine satisfaction — and the more of those moments we build, the greater our overall satisfaction becomes.

Introduction

The idea of being kind to yourself and to others is one of the foundational beliefs of this podcast — along with doing no harm and giving more than you take — and being kind is something I talk about in pretty much every single episode. I have a very good reason for banging on about ‘kindness’ so much: being kind, both to ourselves and to others, is one of the biggest things that you can do to improve your overall wellbeing and help to make a much better world for us all to live in. 

The further we go along with episodes of Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the more you’ve no doubt noticed that I talk a lot about the social effects of our actions as well as how what we do, say and feel impacts on our own individual mental health. Why do I do that? For starters, I’m enormously interested in social psychology as well as individual psychology so I could happily talk about the topics for days and days. But beyond my own interest, to me there’s a strong element of common sense in the idea that there is no ‘me’ without ‘we’ — in other words, none of us are an island unto ourselves and so how we interact with other people has an enormous impact on how we experience this thing called life. There’s an old saying, “as within, so without,” which has many different meanings but for me the main way I interpret it is that what we think, feel and do serves to create what we see and experience in the world. So when we’re focused solely on ourselves we tend to notice more of the selfish behaviour of others, whilst when we focus on others as well as ourselves we then start to see more and more of the better qualities of humanity.

Being kind to others and to yourself is about balance, and I’m a firm believer in trying to find balance in all things for the sake of our individual and collective wellbeing. Back in Episode 39, when I was talking about Coronavirus, I said “it’s about time we all started focusing a lot more on ‘we’ and a bit less on ‘me’. We absolutely deserve our individual rights to freedom but we’re also part of a society, so there has to be balance in all things.” As we move through this episode, consider how you might be able to create more balance between individual needs and collective needs.  

What is ‘kindness’?

‘Kindness’ is about being friendly, considerate, patient, generous and forgiving — being courteous, considering the feelings of others, and behaving in a well-meaning and genuine way. It’s about how you behave towards other people as well as how you behave towards yourself — the things you do as well as how you think about yourself and speak to yourself. Kindness involves being respectful to others and treating them as you would want to be treated by them, as well as treating yourself with respect. 

Let me give you a current example of kind versus unkind attitudes — I’m quite sure I’m about to open a can of worms here, but I’m going to say it anyway: the reactions to COVID-19 and how they have impacted on the elderly. I’m sure you’ve read and heard some of the different remarks that have been made about the horrible fatality rates experienced in the aged care system in many countries, including nasty comments referring to COVID-19 as “the Boomer remover” (because it tends to have a worse effect on the health of older people) and there have been ongoing debates in some quarters about working out an “acceptable” mortality rate in the interests of the economy. This is unkindness in action. To reduce individual lives to a number and to think it’s perfectly acceptable to sacrifice the frail and vulnerable for the sake of money isn’t just unkind, it’s inhuman. Every single person is of value and has a right to live, and nobody has the right to make decisions like that — there is always a kinder solution to be found. We’ve become so focused on money and on individuality that we forgot the fact that we only ended up making it this far in our history as a species because we learned how to work together. 

Look, I’m no saint when it comes to kindness and being patient, and for me it takes conscious and constant daily effort — sometimes I do well, sometimes I drop the ball. Anyone who has ever worked with me or knows me in my personal life is well aware that I do not suffer fools or rudeness, and that I have absolutely no issue with being assertive when I need to be — just ask the woman who works at my local supermarket who is consistently rude and obnoxious to everyone, and who now avoids me because I called her out on her behaviour when she was being vile to me with absolutely no reason. But there’s a fine line between being assertive and being unkind in terms of not thinking about how your words or actions will impact on other people, and since I’m someone who naturally wears my heart on my sleeve I am well aware that often my face will betray what I’m really thinking before I have a chance to catch myself (and sometimes my mouth also takes over before my brain has caught up).

Neither of my parents had any trouble with speaking their mind and weren’t terribly worried about the damage they left in their wake, so I’ve had to work really hard every day (and still do) to override my instinctive responses before I end up ripping someone a new butthole for something rude or inconsiderate they’ve done — and I will say very honestly that I do not win that battle 100% of the time. Let me be clear and say that I am not blaming my parents for those challenges, because it is what it is and none of us can change the past… and quite frankly there comes a point in our lives where we have to stop blaming our parents for everything and instead realise that what we do, say and feel is completely up to us. My point, however, is that for all things we need to start from where we are by understanding what the situation is and why it is so, in order to then be able to address the root causes and eventually make positive progress — and it’s exactly the same when it comes to kindness. For me, acknowledging that I do have an instinctive response that takes over and which can be a bit of a bastard if I don’t control it is an essential part of continuing to grow and develop, because for each of us until we face our reality we can’t change our reality.

I’ve said it a thousand times before in this podcast that I am not perfect — far from it — but then again, nobody is. The difference comes down to self-awareness, and genuinely wanting to do and be better; that’s where the battle begins, and when it comes to being kinder to yourself and to others, it can take a lifetime to unlearn old habits — but it can be done.

Being kind is not weak; being kind is strength. Whether it’s in how you treat others or how you treat yourself (or, hopefully, both), kindness is the polar opposite of the kind of toxic and selfish behaviour that some people think is acceptable. What you put out into the world comes back to you, and so when you share genuine kindness it will return to you and it will help to improve your overall wellbeing.

Before we jump ahead to the ‘how to’ part of today’s topic, let’s spend a bit of time talking about why kindness is such an important part of good mental health and wellbeing — and you might be surprised to learn that it’s not just some hippy new-age concept; there is real scientific evidence that demonstrates how being kind can make a positive difference… 

Why kindness matters and how it affects your mental health

Kindness improves your mental health and wellbeing. In a 2020 study by the UK’s Mental Health Foundation (which you can find at this link), roughly two-thirds of adults reported that being kind to others improved their mental health and the same number agreed that when other people are kind to them it improves their mental health and wellbeing. 

According to a recent article in Psychology Today, multiple studies have found that practicing kindness increases the so-called “happiness hormones” serotonin and dopamine — whilst unkind feelings (like guilt, anger, jealousy, arguing with other people and other negative emotions) can increase cortisol levels which can cause health issues like weight gain and weakened immune function (read it here). The University of London also noted that “giving an act of kindness stimulates the production of: serotonin – the ‘feel good’ chemical that helps us feel happy and calm; endorphins – the brain’s natural pain killer; and oxytocin – a hormone that lowers blood pressure, aids heart health and increases self-esteem. Kindness also reduces the production of the body’s stress hormone, cortisol.” (read the article here). In other words, our mental and physical health are directly linked to one another and kindness has a positive effect on both.

There’s more: quoting from the same University of London article;

“When receiving kindness, there is a sense of belonging, feeling important to someone and of feeling cared for. What’s more, the part of the brain that lights up in the recipient of a kind act, also lights up in the brain of the giver, so all involved experience a positive wave of emotion. As a result, kindness has also been shown to have a domino effect, with recipients of kindness often inspired to pass kindness on to others.”  

University of London

So, giving and receiving kindness can make you feel better, reduce negative feelings, decrease stress and anxiety, reduce feelings of depression, improve your sense of social connection, and it even has the potential to help us live longer and more satisfying lives.

The good news is that you don’t have to wait years and years to see a positive effect from genuine kindness, and all acts of kindness can make a difference: a study by Rowland & Curry published in 2019 (which you can read about in an article by the UK’s Harley Therapy here) found that “all kindness [leads] to increased wellbeing, whether with strangers, or even just being kind to ourselves. And the more our acts of kindness, the better we will feel.”

Further, a study by Buchanan & Bardi (published in 2010, find it here) found a noticeable increase in life satisfaction within just 10 days — demonstrating that it doesn’t take long for us to start to see positive effects by consciously choosing to perform daily acts of kindness.

So, with all of that in mind let’s jump into the how-to part of this week’s episode…

How to incorporate more kindness into your day-to-day life

Hopefully by now you’ll see why kindness is so important and how it can help to improve your mental health and wellbeing, so now let’s look at different things you can do to be kinder. I’ll start by talking about self-kindness then I’ll look at kindness towards others.

Self-kindness involves consciously treating yourself with respect. I talked about Self-Talk back in Episode 9 (and I’d encourage you check that out for a more in-depth look at the subject), and some of the things you can do every day to be kinder to yourself include:

  • Give yourself a break — you’re not perfect and you never will be, so let go of negative thoughts you might have about yourself.
  • Forgive yourself — for all those times when you did something wrong or didn’t achieve the outcome you wanted to or you weren’t the kind of person you wanted to be… forgive yourself, and commit to doing better in the future.
  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes — if and when you make mistakes in life (and you will), you will learn from them… so choose to see them as learning opportunities rather than reasons to be hard on yourself (and please be proactive in actually learning from your mistakes, because then that helps you to grow plus it also helps to reinforce to yourself that making a mistake is not such a bad thing as long as you don’t keep on repeating it!).
  • Think about how you think about things — do you see challenging circumstances and events as catastrophic obstacles or as opportunities? All that you have direct control over is what you do, say and feel, so choose to approach things from a place of positivity and look at how you can grow from the things that happen in life.
  • Look after your overall health — physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social and financial health are all interconnected and so it’s up to you to make healthy decisions that are in your best long-term interests… it can be as simple as being more conscious of what you put into your body and mind through to more advanced stuff like developing your spirituality or getting your finances under control so you can live comfortably — find what works for you, and keep working on it every day.
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself — holding yourself to impossibly-high standards, or beating yourself up over things that you did or didn’t do, will make it difficult to ever feel good about yourself… so take things one step at a time and be realistic about the things you expect from yourself.
  • Cultivate a healthy level of self-respect — focus on the things you like about yourself and what you’re good at; there’s a fine line between ‘confidence’ and ‘narcissism’ so maybe don’t go too hard down the self-love path because ‘healthy self-respect’ means being realistic about your development opportunities as well as your strengths (since nobody is perfect), but do make an effort to actually respect yourself and the things you like about yourself — what you focus on grows, so the more you appreciate about yourself the more you will find to appreciate over time.

In general, self-kindness means making a choice to be kind to yourself in terms of your words, actions and thoughts, and then honouring that choice every day. You will quite likely never be able to stop every negative thought or feeling you experience, but you absolutely can choose what you do with them and whether or not you believe them. Things like learning how to be okay with making mistakes (Episode 2) and releasing regrets (Episode 22), as well as letting go (Episode 32), all take time, effort and perseverance, but it’s worth it… and over time you’ll begin to learn how to replace negative self-talk with a much more positive and supportive inner monologue. A big part of that is also influenced by how you interact with the world around you, which leads us to:

Being kind to other people.  Some of the things you can do to be kinder towards other people include:

  • Speak to and act towards other people with respect, thoughtfulness and compassion — you know, most of us just want to be treated with kindness and dignity… so be conscious of how you want to be treated and mirror those expectations in how you behave towards other people.
  • Be thoughtful in your words and actions — further to the previous point, take a moment before you speak or act to consider the impact your words or actions will have. Sometimes that means choosing different words; sometimes that means picking your battles; other times, that might mean needing to hit the ‘pause’ button for a few moments (or longer) so you can think about your response more rationally. Instead of just reacting based on instinct or emotion, pause and reflect so that you can respond in a more thoughtful manner.
  • Do simple things for other people without seeking reward — genuine kindness isn’t about getting something back (because if you don’t have any expectations then any actual reward feels genuinely rewarding!)… you don’t need to go out of your way to make grand gestures: smile at strangers, chat to people on public transport or in the supermarket, let other drivers in when they’re trying to get out of a carpark or merge lanes in traffic, chat to your neighbour, help someone who drops something in public, be understanding when the person serving you at the shop is less-than-friendly every now and then (because you never know what’s going on in their personal life); these are all simple things to do that cost you nothing and have a massive impact. 

Everything I’ve talked about here serves to demonstrate that the idea of ‘being kind’ doesn’t need to involve some grand production or a street parade or millions of dollars. True kindness is simple and it’s human; it’s a form of connection that says, “I see you and you have just as much value as I do.” Kindness is about putting aside judgements and instead being compassionate towards your fellow human beings.

Summary and Close-Out

When it comes to kindness and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: nobody is perfect and no one person or group of people is better than another. We’re all just people, and we are united by the common threads of humanity — the desire to be loved, to be respected, and to be seen. When we consciously treat ourselves with kindness and act in kind ways towards other people, what we are doing is helping ourselves and others to experience a little moment of genuine satisfaction — and the more of those moments we build, the greater our overall satisfaction becomes. Life is a collection of moments, and since kindness has been shown to have a positive impact on our mental and physical wellbeing it means that we can all make ourselves happier by being kinder to one another and kinder to ourselves. Imagine how amazing the world would be if we were all kind to one another? Well, we don’t have to just imagine it — we can create that world, and it starts with the choices that you make today… and every day.

That’s nearly it for this week. Each week I like to share a quote about this week’s topic and encourage you to take a few moments to reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by Aesop, and it is:

“No amount of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Aesop

Next week, I’ll be talking about mindfulness. Mindfulness is something that comes up a lot in this podcast as well as in many different things you’ll read or hear about improving your mental health, however I think sometimes it can be seen as being too new-agey and flowery or too time-consuming for some people, so I’m going to be going back to basics: what mindfulness is (and what it isn’t), why it’s good for your mental health, and how to be more mindful no matter how much (or how little) time you have available.

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Monday morning in Australia & New Zealand, Sunday evening in the UK, Ireland & Europe, and Sunday afternoon in the US & Canada.

You can find past episodes and additional content at the website which is letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au. You can also find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamentalhealth.

If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice and tell someone you know about the show (because word of mouth really helps new people to discover the program).

Thank you very much for joining me today – look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.

Jeremy 🙂

Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2020 Jeremy Godwin.

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