We could be so much nicer to one another. It is easy to forget our manners when we have had an intense day in the office, been stuck in a traffic jam or have had a particularly challenging experience with customer service. We lead busy, stressful lives that are filled with looming to do lists and unfinished tasks, and we don’t tend to take much notice of the many people we are surrounded by that are in a similar position. Every year on 13 November, World Kindness Day is celebrated in countries around the world to highlight good deeds taking place in communities, and to promote the positive power of kindness.
World Kindness Day was first celebrated in 1998 and was launched by the World Kindness Movement (WKM). WKM is a collection of organisations that are dedicated to promoting kindness, and the initiative acts as a platform where individuals, businesses and organisations can share and collaborate together. With no religious or political affiliations, there are currently 28 member countries represented within the movement.
Kindness can take on many forms, like an act of goodwill or showing concern for another; it is a fundamental part of our humanity. We are a social species, and our capacity for empathy provides us with an evolutionary advantage. We have the well-developed ability to take on the perspective of another, putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and experiencing their suffering as if it were our own. The golden rule ‘treat others as you wish to be treated’ is an evolutionary adaptation, and can be seen in many other groups of primates. Franz de Waal, a Dutch-born primatologist, has spent decades studying the evolution of morality, compassion and empathy. In his book titled The Bonobo and the Atheist, he writes, “Our ancestors supported individuals who contributed little to society. Survival of the weak, the handicapped, the mentally retarded, and others who posed a burden is seen by paleontologists as a milestone in the evolution of compassion. This communitarian heritage suggests that morality predates current civilizations and religions by at least a hundred millennia.”
Charles Darwin is one of the world’s most celebrated biologists thanks to his groundbreaking work on evolution. In his book The Descent of Man, he describes how natural selection favoured the evolution of compassion. He writes, “In however complex a manner this feeling may have originated, as it is one of high importance to all those animals which aid and defend one another, it will have been increased through natural selection; for those communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”
When it comes to the subject of mindfulness, practicing conscious kindness is vital to an individual’s mental wellbeing. Mindfulness brings one’s attention to the experiences taking place in the present moment, noticing and accepting them without judgement. Common mindfulness practices focus on thought processes, body sensations and group sessions. The popular mantra, ‘Peace begins with me’ implies that true harmony cannot be achieved without first taking care of the self. Incorporating self-kindness into mindfulness is key to achieving this. Using mindfulness to treat mental health issues is an emerging science, but has shown promising results. Buddhist Monk Ajahn Brahm has conducted talks around the world to share why mindfulness is more than just cultivating awareness, and has coined the term kindfulness in the process. He says, “Yes, being a control freak and using willpower may give you mindfulness, but it’s not the type of mindfulness that will lead to happiness, stillness or insight. Playfulness and joy, the power of wisdom – that creates great mindfulness.”
Once we are kinder to ourselves, we are more capable of treating others with genuine compassion. Buddhist Monk and acclaimed author Matthieu Ricard is considered the world’s happiest man. He has put a lot of work into the topic of altruism. Altruism consists of acts that arise from a selfless concern for others, and is another characteristic that has developed due to evolutionary adaptations. In Ricard’s book Happiness: A Guide To Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, he reflects, “I have also come to understand that although some people are naturally happier than others, their happiness is still vulnerable and incomplete, and that achieving durable happiness as a way of being is a skill. It requires sustained effort in training the mind and developing a set of human qualities, such as inner peace, mindfulness, and altruistic love.”
The positive power of kindness is not just needed in adults, but also is a core value to cultivate in young people. Mindfulness-based curricula are being implemented in schools around the world, focusing on social emotional development and social intelligence. The Center for Healthy Minds at University of Wisconsin-Madison have created a free kindness-based curriculum for use in preschools to help promote kindness and compassion within the classroom. The Calm Schools Initiative have created a mindfulness app for students and teachers to use to complement their learning. Many schools also encourage random acts of kindness amongst their communities which are non-premeditated, spontaneous actions that display care and generosity towards others.
Science shows us that kindness is good for us, and we can be so much nicer to one another. Acts of kindness are not limited to one day a year, but World Kindness Day is a ideal opportunity to stop and consider how a kind gesture can positively impact someone else. Here are a few ideas to inspire kindness:
- Get involved: Sign yourself and your children up for a local service activity like a beach clean up
- Show you care: Send a postcard to a child fighting an illness
- Share the love: Call a close friend or family member who lives far away and tell them that they are loved
- Pass it on: Pay for someone else’s dinner at a restaurant
- Let it go: Donate things you no longer need to those that desperately need them
- Take 5 minutes: Call or email the manager of a firm after a positive customer service experience to recommend the individual
- Check in: Ask someone you know who is having a tough time how they are doing
- Do something amazing: sign up to be an organ donor, and give blood
About The Author: Natalie Weekes is a freelance writer currently based in Nova Scotia, Canada. With a background in Marine Biology, her passions lie in sustainability, conservation, health and education. When she is not outside in nature, she can usually be found creating things, researching, and connecting with others around the world. Tweet @TheLostMollusc.