What if kindness were a muscle? How could you strengthen your kindness muscle? Muscles develop through repetitious exercise that is focused and disciplined.
Can you imagine the world if everyone exercised their kindness muscles daily? Our homes would be more joyful, marriages would be thriving, workplaces would be more collaborative and engaging. Even the news headlines would be more positive.
The good news is that you can start transforming saggy kindness muscles into powerful muscle mass today. After all, being kind is a strength, not a weakness. It allows us to get out of our own heads and focus on someone else. You may ask, “Where is the kindness muscle located?” I bet your kindness muscle is located right next to your heart.
It is foundational that people want to feel they are seen and heard by others. We want to matter. Receiving thoughtful words and deeds from others can fulfill this human need to be visible. Mother Teresa said, “One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.”
Kindness reaps great benefits for the giver. Research at Mayo Clinic shows that it can increase self-esteem, empathy, compassion, improve your mood and even help you live longer. Kindness can increase your sense of connectivity with others, lessen loneliness and enhance relationships. It can positively change your brain by increasing levels of dopamine and serotonin which give you pleasure, satisfaction and a sense of well-being. When the recipient of your kindness responds and smiles, your brain increases the “love hormone” oxytocin that adds even more pleasure. These studies reinforce what we’ve heard since childhood: it is better to give than to receive.
Is being nice the same as being kind? No! People often mistakenly use nice and kind synonymously. The dictionary defines nice as “pleasing, agreeable, satisfactory,” in other words polite. Kind means “having, showing, or proceeding from benevolence.” Kindness is the quality of being generous and considerate. Being kind is doing voluntary, intentional acts without expecting anything in return.
Your acts of kindness can produce the butterfly effect as your kind behavior triggers more throughout the world. Kindness can be contagious and impacts the person receiving it, those observing it, and you, as you feel benevolent and want to repeat that positive, loving feeling.
Gym exercises for your kindness muscle include these random acts of kindness:
- When you see someone alone at a networking event or meeting, approach him or her and introduce yourself. After a short conversation, invite that person to join you in meeting others. Together, go find a new group and then introduce both of you. Your new friend will be forever grateful.
- Seek opportunities to support colleagues and friends even when they aren’t present. Share credit with them, compliment them behind their back, text them to say how much you admire something they said in a meeting. Nominate someone for an award.
- Be kind to yourself, too. You can’t pour from an empty cup so practice self-care, speak kindly to yourself, and nourish your spirit. Smile when you see your image in the mirror.
- Defend the person being interrupted in a meeting. Say something like, “It sounds like Tiffany was making a good point. I’d appreciate hearing where she was going with her comment.”
- When someone needs to talk, be silent and let them. An anagram for “Listen” is “Silent.”
- Call people by name. Using someone’s name makes them feel recognized. In a restaurant, try using the name of your server. The positive impact can be immediate. Then tip an extra dollar for the great service.
- Carry breakfast bars in your car console and distribute them when passing homeless people on street corners.
- Give a big smile to everyone you meet. Hold the door open. Let someone else have that parking place. Give your seat to someone in need. Call a lonely person.
- Give an honest compliment such as, “Your presentation was phenomenal. I learned a lot” or “It is such a pleasure to see you today” or “You always light up a room when you enter.”
- Be intentional with your random acts of kindness. As I’ve shared before with Desert Health readers, I love that my friend, Shari, begins everyday with 10 dimes in her left pocket. Whenever she is kind throughout the day, she transfers a dime to her right pocket. She leaves a trail of kindness everywhere she goes.
Posted in my office is the reminder: “What I do today is important because I’m exchanging a day of my life for it.” It is impossible to know the true impact you can make on those around you. You may never know how much someone needed that smile, word of encouragement or tight squeeze. One sincere compliment can raise the self-esteem of the recipient. Plus, it can make the giver of the compliment feel good too.
Go ahead and astound someone with your random act of kindness today. As the Dalai Lama says, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Afterall, we become kinder with practice. So, flex your kindness muscle and together let’s improve our world!
Dr. Murphy is a best-selling author, business consultant and speaker specializing in relationships, conflict, leadership, and goal-achievement. She is co-author of LifeQ: How To Make Your Life Your Most Important Business and In the Company of Women. She can be reached at Susan@DrSusanMurphy.com. (Article originally appeared on Forbes.com November 2021).