Treating other people well is a great rule to live by. But did you know it’s also good for your health, vitality and growing resilience?
Psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, author of Love 2.0: Creating Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, studies how “micro-moments” of connection with others, like sharing a smile or expressing concern, improve emotional resilience, boost the immune system, and reduce susceptibility to depression and anxiety.
In Fredrickson’s view, we need affirmative human connection in much the same way that our bodies need wholesome food. “Moments of uplifting positive emotions function like nutrients for creativity, growth, and health,” she says.
And when we look at the New Testament, we see the same sentiment of love being the highest goal and treating others with care and compassion as our ideal. Colossians 3:12 says it best…
"So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness and humility. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love."
It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Interested in encouraging that positive shift within yourself? Here are a few simple tips on growing compassionate connections and fostering kindness from the authors at Experience Life…
Adjust your automatic responses.
Stress triggers us to act in unkind ways — maybe being angry at the driver who cut us off or snapping at a family member that disappoints us. Then we feel bad about it, which creates more stress.
We get stuck in these anxious, negative loops. So, we seek out comfort where we can find it, and end up overeating, or paying too much attention to our smartphones, or otherwise constantly trying to distract ourselves.
Fortunately, we can hack these automatic tendencies by consciously building new mental habits. The brain has the wonderful ability to make things automatic. When you have awareness that you want to be kind, and then you practice it, you’re essentially rewiring the compassionate part of your mind.”
When you notice an irritated thought, take a pause and redirect your mind. Don’t try to be kind right away; it will only annoy you further. Instead, take a breath and see if (counter to your automatic thoughts) you have what you really need and are basically OK. That’s all it takes to shift your mind into a kinder mode.
Start at home.
Studies in behavioral science have found that most of us are more likely to act cheerful toward complete strangers than the people we see and live with every day.
While any positive interaction boosts our baseline well-being, according to Fredrickson, it’s good to bring our kindness practice home, not least because it can be more difficult to be warm and caring toward the people we see routinely. If we can rise to that challenge, we know we’re really growing where it matters most.
When we think about kindness, we often imagine these grand gestures, but we don’t need to join the Peace Corps to create more compassion in our lives. Start by looking closer to home. How do you treat the people you live with? What acts of kindness and care can you share with those closest to you today?
“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”
- Oscar Wilde
Shift your focus to what’s working.
Cultivate a sense of satisfaction whenever you get the chance. Even when you feel like life is upside down, take a step back to recognize a few good things in your world.
Often, kindness is just about stopping in your tracks and becoming aware of what you have.
Being grateful for blessings like health and love is fine, but a more helpful inventory might include overlooked gifts like clean water, warm clothes, even the ability to read these words.
Seeking and naming these fundamental gifts is a radical commitment to take nothing for granted. And when we have a grateful heart it’s much easier to be gracious to those around us.
Know the difference between obligations and opportunities.
Most of us have schedules, calendars, and other tools to keep us on track. Unfortunately, the quest to get things done can often take precedence over our interactions with others.
“Many people are so wrapped up with their to-do lists that they treat people as obstacles, or as a means to some end that’s related to achievement,” says Fredrickson. “Why not slow down and really spend time in someone’s company? To do so is a gift to both you and the other person.”
The practice of being present in the midst of other people — not checking your phone, not rushing to deliver advice as soon as someone starts describing a problem, not scheduling social engagements back to back — can have profound effects of adding those micro-moments of love.
We’re thankful that building kindness is a practice not a project. We view it as a welcome adventure rather than a project that needs to get accomplished. And in the big picture, each of us have the warm invitation to set new patterns and rewire our brain for a greater sense of well-being and purpose in the world. It’s a beautiful calling and one we all greatly benefit from!