“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard fight,” Plato wrote over two thousand years ago. Little has changed in this regard. All of us grapple with numerous struggles: work, personal finances, parenting, health issues, being in a relationship, and more.
While kindness definitely benefits others, it also benefits us. When we’re kind to others, we experience a host of benefits. For example, giving money to others yields more happiness for us than spending it on ourselves. A study of over 700 people found that those that practiced compassion for one week were happier than the control group. The study showed the increase in happiness remained six months later, long after they had stopped practicing.
In the face of challenging social situations, those who demonstrate more compassion also tend to manage stress better and exhibit reduced blood pressure and lower cortisol levels. Indeed, helping others reduces the risk of death by mitigating the impact of stress.
Spinning with busyness, our minds may resist taking on more. However, given the benefits of longer, happier lives, kindness falls well within our self-interest. We can build our capacity for kindness through various mindfulness practices. In fact, researchers at the University of Wisconsin have shown mindfulness actually alters the structure of our brains to make us more inclined to be kind.
Try out the mindfulness practice below. Then throughout your day, do some small act of kindness -- buy a cup of coffee for a coworker, offer your neighbor a favor, or give a stranger the change they need at checkout -- and see what difference kindness makes for both the recipient and for you.
Take a few moments to get comfortable in your seat. Close your eyes if it will help you concentrate. Focus on your breathing for a few moments.
Begin by wishing yourself well, silently saying, “May I be safe and free from suffering. May I be happy and healthy. May I have peace and ease of being.” Repeat the phrases, taking a little more time with each one.
Now bring to mind someone you care about and wish them well: “May he or she be safe and free from suffering. May he or she be happy and healthy. May he or she have peace and ease of being.”
Call to mind someone you feel neutral about, perhaps someone you see at work or in the neighborhood. Even though you might not know their name, understand that they have hopes just as you do. Wish them well: “May he or she be safe and free from suffering. May he or she be happy and healthy. May he or she have peace and ease of being.”
Think about someone you have a hard time with. It doesn’t need to be the most challenging person in your life. Remember that they also want to be happy and free. Wish them well: “May he or she be safe and free from suffering. May he or she be happy and healthy. May he or she have peace and ease of being.”
Conclude by offering kindness to all living beings: “May all beings be safe and free from suffering. May all of us be happy and healthy. May all of us have peace and ease of being.”