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What is the importance of kindness? What are the benefits of showing gratitude?
Acts of kindness can boost your happiness and the happiness of those around you. Kindness expresses appreciation, love, and positivity—all of which can help you build meaningful relationships.
Let’s look at the top four reasons why kindness is important in our world.
The Origin of Kindness
The book The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt talks about the importance of kindness with the idea that it encourages people to help others. Kin altruism is the mechanism by which individuals care for and protect individuals within their kin group (those with whom they share a blood relation). It’s observed in the behavior of many non-human animals and can be explained by simple Darwinian instincts: if the ultimate goal is to ensure the survival of one’s genes, it makes sense to be altruistic toward other members of the kin group.
But this does not fully explain the human phenomenon of reciprocity as we observe it. Humans, unlike other animals, work with, care for, and protect people with whom they have minimal or no blood relation. If anything, such behavior cuts against Darwinian impulse, as these other people are our “competitors” for scarce resources and their survival could be construed as hampering our own. Clearly, something else is going on.
What separates us from these other animals is the reciprocity reflex. This tells us to repay others when they do something for us. It’s so deeply ingrained that we hardly think about it, yet we practice it all the time. When a friend treats you to lunch, you make sure you pick up the check the next time you go out; when your neighbors invite you to a party, you invite them the next time you’re hosting an event.
We have an instinct to repay favors, even from strangers. From an evolutionary perspective, it works because it increases everyone’s chances of survival. The reciprocity reflex causes the other members of the group to help you if you have helped them, creating networks of mutual obligation.
This reflex is supported by two emotional sub-reflexes—gratitude and vengeance. Gratitude causes us to aid those who’ve aided us in the past; vengeance causes us to withhold aid from those who’ve been stingy or selfish, making it less likely that free riders will exploit the community’s altruism. This opens up the possibility of mutually beneficial cooperation, which makes the group as a whole stronger and strengthens social ties between members of a community.
Here are the four reasons why you should practice kindness.
1. Your Relationships Will Be Stronger
The Happiness Hypothesis says that a key factor that affects our happiness is the strength of our connections to other people. And reciprocity—the phenomenon by which we treat others as we have been treated by them—is one of the strongest ties that bind society together.
In addition, The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman claims that kindness is especially important for people whose primary love language is Words of Affirmation—supportive and complementary words make them feel the most loved. Actions and physical intimacy are not as important as affirming words. Speaking this language to your partner means finding small or large ways of expressing approval and gratitude for who they are and what they do.
Affirming words are immensely useful when trying to express love.
- When you receive a compliment or words validating your person or actions, you feel good and respected. The same is true for the people you give affirming words to.
- When you show appreciation for your partner, those words embolden them with confidence and contentment.
Within the language of Words of Affirmation are varied dialects, meaning there are different categories of affirming words. Certain types of affirming words will strike different chords depending on the dialect your partner speaks. All Words of Affirmation are beneficial to one who speaks this language, but learning which particular dialect they speak will make the effort more fruitful.
The Dialect of Kindness
When we want to express love, the only place we can come from is one of kindness. Kindness means showing consideration, respect, and warmth toward others.
Phrases that are amicable or show affection, such as “You’re a loving parent,” “You bring so much joy to my life,” or “The way you are is wonderful,” go a long way in making someone feel special and respected.
By its nature, love is a positive feeling. Love is not inherently cruel or mean. In fact, it’s the opposite. Being kind through verbal communication is a tremendous way to give love to someone with this love language.
Using kind language is a choice and must be sincere.
The tone of the words is as important as the words themselves. People pay more attention to tone than words, so the tone must match the sentiment. You can say, “You’re a great guy,” but if the tone is snarky or sarcastic, the words carry a different meaning.
When said disingenuously, kind words can express contempt. When said sincerely, words express love.
Tone also makes less positive statements and expressions of love. For example, It’s easy during disputes to express our hurt or anger in hurtful or angry ways. To a person whose love language is Words of Affirmation with a dialect of kindness, those expressions will cut like a knife and drain their love tank.
- Rather than saying, “You’re always so selfish. You never listen to what I want,” changing your tone and words to kind ones can still reflect love.
- For instance, you might say, “It hurts me when I feel like the things I want are not important to you.” If these words are said kindly and softly, they will encompass the energy of communication and healing.
When you speak to communicate and heal, you are expressing love through your decision to approach your partner with kindness. That effort is love and will be experienced as such.
Likewise, when your partner approaches you with kindness, understand that their choice to do so stems from love.
You always have the choice to choose kindness, which is why it’s important to always choose it. Even when your partner is speaking rudely to you, your response can still be anchored in love.
- You can choose to listen and try to understand where the anger or hurt is coming from.
- You can try to understand the emotions your partner is feeling.
- You can then respond by acknowledging those feelings, apologizing if necessary, and explaining your perspective to find a solution.
Often, arguments are caused by miscommunication or unmet expectations. Being able to address those calmly and positively will lead to reason and reconciliation. Real love is accepting your partner for who they are and working to find a balance between sincerity and kindness.
Focus on Healing
You sometimes make mistakes or behave inappropriately. You know you are not perfect, and neither is your partner.
Bad or hurtful things are going to happen. There is no way around it. You can’t change what has already happened. You can only seek understanding and forgiveness and move forward better equipped for what lies ahead.
If you choose kindness, intimacy can be found. If you choose resentment, there is no room for love to be created.
Leave the past in the past. What happened yesterday doesn’t need to affect how you live today.
TITLE: The 5 Love Languages
AUTHOR: Gary Chapman
2. People Will Want to Help You
Some people argue that being nice is for chumps, while others argue that being nice will get you far. So who’s right? According to Eric Barker in Barking Up the Wrong Tree, they all are. You can be both kind and successful—but you have to be smart about it.
Be Kind Shows Gratitude
Gratitude is a cultivated practice—ingratitude is human nature. Expecting natural gratitude from others will only lead to frequent disappointment or resentment on your part. Demanding gratitude is also unfulfilling because the demand makes it into an obligation—the delivery feels insincere. It’s better to expect no gratitude at all and be delighted when you do receive it. Focus instead on the joy of giving without expecting anything in return, and expressing gratitude yourself.
- You might celebrate Christmas by anonymously donating toys to children whose parents can’t afford presents.
- You might send your friends handwritten notes every time they do you a favor, like taking you out for lunch or helping you with child care.
What is the importance of kindness and why does it pay off according to Barker? Barker explains that when you’re kind to someone without expecting anything in return, people grow to like you—and people who like you want to help you. Some people who like you will offer you small courtesies, like proofreading an important email you need to send. Others will watch over you and help if someone tries to take advantage of you. Therefore, when you meet someone, get them to like you by doing something small for them before they do anything for you. For example, you might treat them to coffee.
Children Can Learn to be Grateful From You
Besides making you and the people around you happier, your consistent and earnest expressions of gratitude will naturally cultivate a stronger sense of gratitude in others. How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie also says that expressing kindness shows them how to meaningfully express it. Regular demonstrations of gratitude are especially important for parents to perform—by doing so, you raise grateful children.
- For example, if you receive an ugly vase, don’t let your children overhear you talking about how awful it is. Instead, say, “Look at this vase Kate gave us! She knows how much we love to pick flowers in the spring. Let’s write her a thank you note together.”
3. Kindness Will Help You Pursue Your Purpose
Who Will Cry When You Die? by Robin Sharma discusses the importance of kindness as well. Sharma says that kindness is a tactic to develop your control over your life and steer it toward your purpose. We’ll first describe why Sharma feels kindness is integral to pursuing your purpose. We’ll then cover six ways in which you can spread kindness to yourself and others.
Be Kind to Yourself and Others Every Chance You Get
Sharma’s recommendation is to simply be kind to yourself and others as often as possible. When you do this, you more effectively pursue your altruistic purpose in life. Let’s say your purpose is to add value to your community. When you perform community service with a kind disposition, you add more value than if you had a sullen or even neutral disposition.
Here are six strategies Sharma recommends to spread the importance of kindness:
Strategy #1: Laugh Intentionally Every Day
One way to be kinder to yourself is to find a reason to laugh every day, says Sharma. Laughter has stress-relieving and energizing properties that make your life more pleasant.
Strategy #2: Send Kindness When You Spend Money
When spending money, spread kindness spiritually by being grateful that the money came to you and passing it along with kind wishes, suggests Sharma. Gratitude is a form of kindness to yourself because it makes you aware of the blessings in your life. Furthermore, by wishing that the recipient benefits from your money, you enhance your capacity for compassion—a form of kindness to others.
Strategy #3: Send Thank You Notes
One way to practically spread kindness to others is to send thank you notes, writes Sharma. This small act of gratitude can have a hugely positive effect on the recipient.
Strategy #4: Forgive Others to Be Kind to Yourself
Sharma believes you can be kind to yourself by forgiving others quickly. When you forgive, you relieve yourself of the burden of carrying negative feelings and make room for happiness.
Strategy #5: Be Kind by Being Humble
Humility is a great way to spread kindness, claims Sharma, because it shows others you’re open to and respectful of their ideas. By being humble, you signal to others that you’re aware you don’t know everything (and never will) and that you’ll listen to them with an open mind.
Strategy #6: Add Value by Educating Yourself
Finally, spread kindness by acquiring specialized knowledge and sharing it, says Sharma. When you contribute something new to a project, conversation, or relationship, you add value, and others can benefit from your insights. If, for instance, a grandparent is developing Alzheimer’s disease, educate yourself about supporting someone with this disease and implement that learning to make your grandparent’s life better.
TITLE: Who Will Cry When You Die?
AUTHOR: Robin Sharma
4. Kindness Clears Your Shame
Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen suggests that the importance of kindness is that it clears shame. She offers this solution to Christians, but it can be applied to anyone.
Your enemy is shame, which leads you to behave self-protectively by generating an illusion of self-enclosed autonomy. Some typical thoughts associated with shame include the following. Look for these in your own mind:
- People would run if they knew how badly I’ve failed.
- I’m not a people person. I enjoy being a loner.
- Other people just don’t get me.
- Nobody wants to hear about my problems.
Your weapon against shame is kindness and community, a relationship of open, heartful connection with God and other people.
The Lie: You Don’t Need Anyone
The enemy’s basic lie in this battle is that you can “do it on your own,” that you can live your own life and solve your own problems. This lie is generated and fueled by the shame described above. We’re each burdened with a deep-seated fear that our true selves are shameful, that other people would reject us and abandon us if they really knew our thoughts, actions, and true identities
Shame produces a dysfunctional behavioral pattern:
- It leads us to act self-protectively by refusing to ask for help. Under shame’s spell, we think of asking for help as “bothering other people with our problems.” Letting other people “in” feels threatening when shame is dominating us.
- So we push others away with unkindness by speaking in harsh words and acting in defensive behaviors, leaving us alone in the toxic swirl of our own thoughts.
- Then our self-created isolation amplifies our sense of worthlessness and shame by “confirming” it. So we’re caught in a self-fulfilling mental and behavioral trap.
Ironically, the current generation has actually made an idol out of this dysfunction. We worship and promote absolute independence from others as if it’s a virtue, when in fact it’s the very thing God is calling us away from.
The Truth: God Made You to Be Kind
The truth that explodes the lie of shame is that God made you not to go it alone but to be seen, known, and loved.
A key scripture highlighting this truth is 1 John 1:7: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
The author learned a critical lesson about God’s plan for community when she and her husband went through the process of adopting their son Cooper from an orphanage in Rwanda: For children to thrive, you have to make them feel seen and loved. Moreover, this insight applies to all of us. The old saying “it takes a village” applies to more than raising a child. We’re “village people,” built to thrive in communities that gather together and share each other’s lives.
The Strategy: Choose to Know and Be Known
The way you defeat your enemy of shame and its lie that you don’t need others is by choosing kindness. In other words, choose to help and be helped by others. In this endeavor, it’s important to remember that God’s Spirit lives in you. Trust the Spirit to be with you in reaching out to others.
To illustrate this last point, the author relates a painful past experience from when she started her IF organization. A misunderstanding about her motivations brought public criticism from prominent women whom she admired. She reached out to them by phone, forged a relationship, apologized, and asked for their wisdom. They proved open and accepting. Allen’s risk in reaching out ended up bringing healing and new friends and allies.
You can also find vivid descriptions of ways to achieve real community in Philippians 2 and Colossians 3. According to Paul in those books, creating real human community may look like:
- Showing brotherly affection
- Trying to “outdo each other” in showing honor
- Living in harmony with others
- Comforting others and seeking peaceful interactions
- Denying your own sinful desires and serving others
- Being kind and forgiving
- Being grateful
- Worshiping God together
TITLE: Get Out of Your Head
AUTHOR: Jennie Allen
Be Kind, But Be Smart About It
While being kind is important, Barking Up the Wrong Tree argues that it only leads to success if you’re smart about it—and he presents three ways of doing so.
To be smart, Barker first recommends that you surround yourself with ethical people at work. If you’re surrounded only by people who want to take advantage of you, nobody will return your kindness—and being kind without getting anything in return leads to unhappiness. Moreover, studies show that the behaviors of the people you’re closest to rub off on you. So if you’re surrounded by kind people at work, you’ll become kinder. If you’re surrounded by unkind people, you’ll become unkind.
A second way to be both smart and kind is to highlight your achievements. Barker explains that unkind people are naturally good at self-promotion. So as a kind person, be deliberate about highlighting your achievements to make your boss aware of your good work. Try promoting yourself to your boss by sending her a weekly email highlighting your achievements over the past week. You’ll thus create a record of accomplishments that you and your boss can refer to when it’s time for your annual review.
Third, Barker recommends that you fight back when people try to abuse your kindness. Being kind might get you far, but if you’re too kind and always absolve someone who exploits you, they’ll continue to exploit you forever. This doesn’t mean you should physically fight back. Instead, tell others about what this person did. If they learn that exploiting you will damage their reputation, they’ll be less likely to exploit you (and possibly others) in the future.
However, Barker doesn’t recommend fighting back every time people are unkind. Rather, his fourth and final recommendation for being both kind and smart is to occasionally forgive people when they’re unkind to you. Everybody messes up sometimes, so it’s important to understand this reality and let people off the hook occasionally. By doing so, you give them the opportunity and the incentive to behave better next time—and as we’ve seen, the kinder the people around you are, the kinder you will continue to be.
Kindness has the power to build relationships, influence other people to show gratitude, and create a sense of optimism when times feel dark. In addition, helping others or giving people compliments can make you happier and improve your well-being. If there are other reasons you believe kindness is important, leave them in the comments below.
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