It’s a cruel, dog-eat-dog world, it is often said. Virtues such as kindness and compassion are in short supply. In fact, research by the University of Michigan suggests that the world is becoming less and less kind as concern for others’ welfare has been dropping since the 1990s. Overall, compassion, empathy, and kindness are lower now than in the past 30 years. But are we really doomed to become an unkind society?
The beginning of the covid pandemic proved that the world was capable of kindness. Amid the crisis, acts of love and compassion made it to newspaper headlines around the world — young people helping elders with their shopping, a postcard scheme to combat loneliness, drive-through birthday parties to cheer those self-isolating, and keeping the homeless fed and safe.
What these remarkable acts prove is that we are all capable of kindness. We might just be out of touch with it. Why? Perhaps because stressful situations make us focus solely on our survival. The “me” takes a central stage, whereas the “other” is less or not at all important. Yet, taking a break from this narrative to consider the needs of those around you can be hugely beneficial. After all, when you offer a helping hand, others are more likely to return the favor.
The Helper’s High: research on the power of kindness
Ever heard about the helper’s high? This is a state of euphoria and positivity you feel after engaging in acts of kindness like volunteering or donating money to a good cause. Psychologists believe that these activities release endorphins (chemicals that relieve pain and stress) in the brain. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that the brain’s area that is activated in response to pleasure lits up when supporting charitable causes.
Further research demonstrates that those who are kind experience positive wellbeing benefits. For example, a study followed a group of employees in a Spanish company. The employees had to perform acts of kindness for their coworkers or count the number of kind acts they got. The results showed that those who received kindness became happier. But those who spread kindness were even happier and less prone to depression.
Interestingly, researchers believe that engaging in practices such as meditation improves kindness and compassion. Psychologists and behavioral scientists discovered that long-term meditators who were shown videos of people in distress had lower negative emotions like disgust and contempt and more compassion.
Developing kindness and compassion through meditation
Meditation is a practice of guided contemplations to foster awareness and relaxation. It typically entails sitting still, focusing one’s attention on the present moment without dwelling on it. In the past decades, meditation has been linked to a wealth of positive perks including less stress, better sleep, improved cognitive abilities, and many others. Yet, the most experienced meditators believe that the main benefit of a clear mind is achieving an enlightened state that facilitates compassion, love, and kindness.
The Dalai Lama once said, “my religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” He believes that the most advanced level of inner tranquility comes from “the development of love and compassion.” This means that the more we care for other people’s happiness, the greater our sense of wellbeing and contentment becomes. What’s more, this helps us gain the strength to overcome obstacles and achieve true success in life.
And how does exactly meditation make all these wonderful things possible? The answer is not so simple as everyone’s meditation journey is unique. But, overall, practicing meditation allows you to reflect and connect with yourself at a higher level. Meditation can help you become kinder by:
Teaching you to be your best friend
“If you don’t love yourself, how can others love you?” The same principle applies to kindness. If you are kinder to yourself (more accepting of your mistakes and less concerned about appearances), you will have a more positive relationship with who you truly are.
Once you become kinder to yourself, it’s much easier to be kinder to others. You understand that “we are all made from the same stuff” and that “we all struggle”. Understanding this bond increases your empathy and encourages you to be kinder.
Many people find it difficult to be kind when they find themselves in stressful situations or while interacting with individuals with radically different backgrounds and ideas. The more you meditate, the more you become patient and tolerant of others.
When was the last time you thanked your best friend or partner for supporting and looking after you? Meditation, more specifically gratitude meditation, helps become aware of the blessings and positive things in your life.
5 tips to foster kindness
You already know that meditation is one of the most efficient ways to become kinder. Of course, you can benefit from several methods. Here are five useful tips to complement your meditations and foster kindness:
- Volunteer or campaign for a good cause.
- Ask your relatives, friends, and colleagues how they are, how they feel, and whether they need any help.
- Do random acts of kindness — hold a door open for someone, help your neighbor carrying their groceries, buy a coffee for someone in need.
- Avoid making generalizations about people and try to see the “bigger picture”.
- Listen to 20 to 25 minutes of immersive and enriching 3D sound meditations every day.