Kindness - an Undervalued Resource

Kindness – An Undervalued Resource

I left my home country in 1996. We said we’d stay in Russia for five years. You know, just enough to learn my fiancé’s native language and culture. What started out as a jaunt, morphed into decades abroad: making homes in Eastern and Western Europe and Southeast Asia. My biggest take-away from 23 years living and traveling all over the world?

People everywhere are the same. Everyone responds to kindness.

Everyone wants to be seen. All people, regardless of race, gender, religion, level of income – we all want to be treated with respect and dignity. And if we treat each other with kindness, it’s almost always reciprocated.

They say that repatriation is the hardest international move to make. It’s counter intuitive, really. There are so many pluses to coming back: a legal right to employment, a common official language, life in a similar time zone as family and old friends, a familiar currency, and, arguably, the most important advantage of moving back to the United States – easy access to an unprecedented level of quality television entertainment!

Life is very different in the states now, and there is the expectation that I know what I’m doing, even though I’ve never lived here as an adult and have no 401K. But, I don’t think it’s the fact that I’ve returned to my home country that is making this move particularly challenging. It’s more about my personal life being in transition, a phenomenon that most of us experience at some point in our lives. I am on the brink of being and empty nester. I don’t have a career to fall back on because I gave all that up by staying home with my children as we moved from country to country. And, yes, I do have the added bonus that I am lacking a network and friends in my new city. Basically, it’s all left me feeling a bit lost. But it has also left me feeling like I have an empty slate – an opportunity.

I decided to embark on a year of discovery.

I watched the world around me — tried to pause and just listen. And I read… a lot. My goal was 12 books in 2020, about 5 more than a typical year. I ended up logging 71. I listened to podcasts, participated in online seminars, watched authors and artists lecture, and took online courses. Through this observation and learning, I found I was consistently drawn to topics of health and well- being, optimism, happiness – things that made life worth living. And then I had my “ah-ha” moment. I was browsing through the website of, an organization whose mission is “to educate and inspire people to choose kindness” so that they can fulfill their vision of a “world where people choose kindness first.” I read the following words:

“Kindness transcends difference. Everyone has the capacity for kindness.” 2017 Annual Report, 2017

All of the facts, figures, quotes and details of my research from the past months started swirling and building and rushing together in one powerful force, channeling straight into my head until BAM – I had it. Something so obvious, yet I had never really taken the time to truly consider it. Anyone, I mean absolutely anyone, can be kind. Kindness isn’t bought with money. Kindness isn’t limited to people in certain countries or with certain levels of education. Each person in this world has the capacity to potentially save not only someone else’s life but their own life every single day through acts of kindness.

Kindness is an invaluable resource for humanity’s health and wellbeing, and we all have an unlimited supply.

Let’s look at the facts (and these are just the biggies):

  1. Kindness makes us feel good. Acts of kindness lead to an increase of dopamine levels in the brain which makes us feel happier. This is widely known as the “helper’s high.” “People could feel greater positive emotions, and in turn psychological health, because by being kind to others, they are nurturing social relationships, or they could feel greater pride in themselves for doing a good deed,” Dr. Katherine Nelson said in her study of nearly 500 participants.
  2. Kindness can reduce stress and social anxiety. Everyone knows the feeling of stress. It’s a part of our everyday lives. But what if that stress and anxiety is affecting the joy we feel? Positive affect is how we react and experience positive emotions in our lives such as joy, enthusiasm, and pride. “Social anxiety is associated with low positive affect (PA), a factor that can significantly affect psychological well-being and adaptive functioning,” according to a study conducted at the University of British Columbia. It further revealed that “participants who engaged in kind acts displayed significant increases in PA that were sustained over the 4 weeks of the study.”
  3. Kindness protects our hearts. When we do kind acts and feel ‘emotional warmth’ our brains produce what has come to be known as the ‘cuddle hormone’, oxytocin. “Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates the blood vessels. This reduces the blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure),” according to Dr. David Hamilton.
  4. Kindness helps us live longer. Extensive research has found that acts of kindness, and the feelings of connection and compassion that accompany these acts, can make us healthier and prolong our lives. Dr. Hamilton asserts that kind acts not only protect our heart but can also actively slow aging. “Remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (that we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and so slows ageing at source.” Another study done in 2015 demonstrated that participants’ telomeres, the protective ends of our chromosomes, whose length is an indicator of our potential longevity, showed “significantly less (telomere length) attrition” after a 12-week trial where the Tibetan Buddhist’s ‘Loving Kindness Meditation’ was practiced. To put it simply, practicing the Loving Kindness Meditation slowed down the biological aging of their cells.

“Doing a kindness produces the single most reliable increase in wellbeing [for the doer] of any exercise we’ve tested.”

-Dr. Martin Seligman, Founder of Positive Psychology

We know that kindness not only makes us feel good, but it actually makes us healthier and live longer. And, we don’t need to spend any money to utilize this resource that can improve our happiness and well-being. And, everyone in the entire world can immediately access this resource. So, why isn’t this headline news? Why aren’t we teaching this in school?  Why aren’t our doctors prescribing this as treatment?

You’ve joined me at square one. I have an opportunity to begin another chapter in my life, so I’m moving forward with a new intention. I will try to incorporate kindness into all my decisions of daily life, activities, and relationships – effectively creating the habit of kindness.

This will be a learning experience, and I learn best from others. Please share your thoughts and ideas. What do you think? Is it possible to make kindness a habit, a natural reaction? As always, let’s be kindful of each other.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."
Mahatma Gandhi

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