I recently asked a good friend of mine what kindness meant to her, and she thought for a moment and then replied "Someone putting their own feelings to one side and doing something nice for someone else."
Literally 30 seconds later her partner walked into the room wearing some shorts, and without missing a beat my friend turned to him and said "You’re not seriously going out like that are you?”
Which I suppose indicates that just because we know what kindness is, doesn't mean we always act kindly.
Chatting with friends and colleagues about this gave pretty similar definitions:
Someone going out of their way to do something for you
Offering to do something for someone else because you want to, rather than because you have to
Doing something for someone even though you don't expect anything in return
What struck me about all of these responses was they required an action. Clearly being kind isn't a passive state, but requires us to 'do' something
So I decided to read up a little on the psychology of kindness and discovered 2 different types:
The random act – where we see someone in need or in pain and without thinking we respond and offer help
The intentional or planned act – where we know someone needs support so we send them a gift or ring them up for a chat
From a mental health and well-being point of view, the research confirms that these acts of kindness benefit both the giver and the receiver. For example, think how great it feels to give someone a gift you know they’re going to really love, or how you feel when you’ve let someone in at a junction and they smile and wave a ‘thank you’ towards you. Feels good doesn’t it?
What’s more it seems the impact of a kind gesture goes on long after the initial act and can become contagious. Kindness has a ripple effect and encourages more kindness.
Don't forget, it’s really important that as well as being kind to others, we should also be kind to ourselves. Whether that's going for a walk, dancing in the kitchen, singing to the radio, treating yourself to a little luxury (like a scented candle) or having a nice long bath, we need to remember to look after our own mental health so we can continue the kindness ripple and the profound impact it can have on everyone around us.