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The wonderful thing about being kind, is indeed, just how easy it is. A word, a smile, one small act that demonstrates caring and consideration; all of these show a generosity of spirit. But what, exactly, is kindness? And why is kindness so important?
What is Kindness?
Kindness is highly valued and considered to be a virtue in most religions and cultures throughout the world, and throughout history.
Kindness has even been awarded its own holiday – February 17th has been designated as National Random Acts of Kindness Day. It is celebrated by individuals, groups and organizations nationwide to encourage acts of kindness.
But, what exactly constitutes kindness? Kindness is a quality of being generous and considerate, with no expectation of reward, credit, or return of similar. Quite simply, it’s doing something nice without getting anything in return, simply because doing something nice is the right thing to do.
Kindness may also be known as good-heartedness, benevolence, altruism, courtesy, goodwill, graciousness, good intention, or solicitousness.
There are many, many ways of demonstrating this positive behavior, and they can be more or less broken down into three main categories: kindness to others, kindness to self, and kindness to the world.
One Person to Another
The most commonly thought of acts of kindness are those given from one person to another. The recipient of the act may or may not be someone who is known to the person performing the act of kindness. They could be a family member, friend, acquaintance – or total stranger.
Classic examples of person to person kindness include helping an elderly person cross the street, carrying someone’s groceries, or paying for the coffee order of the person in line behind you.
Essentially, any nice action you take without expectation of a return can be considered an act of kindness.
Directed Toward Yourself
An often-overlooked form of kindness is kindness toward one’s self, also called self-care. The consideration someone directs inward is vital to any person’s well-being. This kindness should not be confused with self-indulgence. Rather, it demonstrates self-respect because the way we treat ourselves is often reflected in our behavior toward others, and it tells the world how we expect others to treat us.
First and foremost, if we maintain healthy emotional boundaries and direct love and kindness inwards, we are taking care of ourselves and secondly we are giving a subliminal message to others about how we wish to be treated. People tend to subconsciously treat us how we treat ourselves.Christopher Dines
Examples of good intentions toward the self could be relaxing in a hot bath at the end of a long day, exercising to keep your body healthy, or participating in a favorite hobby or sport. It can also be mental – accepting and forgiving yourself for a mistake, choosing to stay home and read a book instead of going to a party you aren’t interested in attending, or speaking honestly when someone has hurt or upset you.
Kindness toward oneself is a state of accepting yourself as you are, forgiving your past, and setting goals for your future.
Toward The World
This unselfishness isn’t always directed toward specific people – and not necessarily even people at all. Animals, plants, and the world as a whole all benefit from acts of good intention. Yes, the world needs kindness.
Rescuing a dog or cat from a high-kill shelter, planting trees in the local park, cleaning up trash along the shoreline. Purchasing sustainable products from ethical companies, minimizing the use of plastics, walking instead of driving. The familiar “reduce, reuse, recycle”. All of these acts and choices demonstrate goodwill toward our world, and would be considered acts of kindness.
Why is Kindness Important?
Research has shown that kindness has some very positive effects on the person who does the thoughtful act.
Those who demonstrate goodness report increased happiness, healthier hearts, slower aging, and better relationships than others who do not consider themselves as altruistic. And the more actively a person demonstrates this good intention, the more dramatic these effects can be.
This is evidence that kindness is really very important not only for the recipient, but also for the doer or giver of the kindness.
It’s also a proven fact that people grow more benevolent with practice. Perhaps due to the positive reactions we receive when we are good to others, the more kindness we show, the more likely we are to continue our gracious behavior. Kindness begets more of the same.
Imagine how a few sincere acts of kindness could change a person, spread to others, and change the world!
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Final Thoughts on What is Kindness and Why is it Important
Hopefully, the concept of kindness, as well as the importance, are clear. And although our society may often seem to reward us for being “tough” and intractable, the reality is that kindness is a valuable and necessary part of all of our lives.
There are clear benefits to kindness, whether you find yourself on the giving or receiving end of it. And as Ingrid Newkirk so aptly stated, “The wonderful thing is that it’s so incredibly easy to be kind.”