In our personal lives as well as in our careers, we face challenges that test our emotional mettle. As humans, we tend to be quite affected by these situations. Yet, successful people do not have less challenging lives than those who do not succeed in their goals. In fact, they may go through even greater challenges, but they respond to difficulties differently. Some people get mad, some get anxious. In my case, I chose to be kind.

The underrated effects of kindness on our mind

Treating the people around us in a kind way will obviously make them feel good. However, practicing kindness also has a profound effect on our own mental & physiological health. You will find several articles on the web detailing the numerous chemicals released in our brain while performing or witnessing acts of kindness. The most famous being endorphin and oxytocin, which are both known for helping in reducing pain & anxiety. If you’d like to learn more you will find great resources at Random Acts of Kindness.

This is very interesting for sure but what I would like to point out here is that kindness highlights the fact that we are responsible for our emotions. While facing a challenging situation, we start to think, and it’s actually our thoughts (positive or negative) which will translate this situation into an emotion. In other words, once we are aware of that (and practicing a lot), we may be able to pause and choose how to feel towards a specific situation. For example, in such cases, I commit to take a bit of back focus and ask myself “Ok, now I’m facing this. Then what would I do if I wanted to be kind?”.

Using this logic actually changes everything, because not only being positive (even if the situation isn’t) has an impact on me – I feel calmer and more confident about how I want to handle it – but also on the people around me, as it lowers any tensions. Simply put, handling things with kindness can avoid arguments and leave the room for dialog, understanding and commitment on finding a way to solve an issue.

That leads to another interesting aspect of kindness: it is contagious.

“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.”

Kindness is contagious

Interestingly, the simple witnessing of others being kind can release the same “feel good” chemicals that doing an act of kindness can produce. As explained by the Professor Jamil Zaki, “The positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brain of everyone who witnessed the act, improving their mood and making them significantly more likely to “pay it forward.” This means one good deed in a crowded area can create a domino effect and improve the day of dozens of people!”.

It seems pretty obvious: if someone does something kind for you, you feel better and are more likely to help out someone else. But it’s actually more complex than that. This contagion can be explained in three ways:

  • the most common is that we feel “elevated” when someone helps us, we’re on the crest of an emotional wave for a short time and from this state we feel inspired to help other people,
  • we might also feel relieved when someone helps us, especially if the situation we’re in is stressful and then be more willing to team up in order to progress,
  • finally, when we see someone being kind, something inside tells us that this is what we should be doing and so we are inspired by the observation of another’s kind behavior and want to be kind as well.

We may wonder how contagious is kindness then? According to a study, the ripple effect with kindness is quite high and spreads up to three degrees of separation, which means that the benefits of an act of kindness usually ripples out to 3 other people. So, no act – however small – is ever wasted. But then why aren’t we always kind?


Why is it so hard to be kind?

Being kind is often viewed as a weakness, even more in the corporate world. Everyone knows you can’t be successful by being a doormat! Fortunately: kindness has nothing to do with being a doormat and everything to do with strength.

Being kind doesn’t mean that we have to ignore our feelings. It’s the decision to handle things differently and concentrate of what will make things move forward versus getting stuck in a dead-end of anger and frustration. Living with hatred, complaining and spreading negativity is easy. It is much more difficult, and courageous, to be kind than it is to be grumpy.

Also, kindness requires to be able to listen and understand others in a genuine way and no doubt this is one of the hardest things to achieve. The fact is that our brain processes information much faster than the number of words a person can speak. As a result, our attention wanders while listening, planning what we will say in reply, thinking about an upcoming meeting, or remembering a task we need to accomplish. We need some practice in order to use our brain capacity to genuinely focus on what the speaker is really saying and analyze it properly.

Finally, kindness requires honesty & sincerity. Yes, we all can be kind but no, we shouldn’t fake it. Indeed, one has first to firmly believe in the benefits of kindness before being able to practice it properly and unleash its full benefits. But the good news is that kindness can be taught and several courses are now available to boost teamwork and improve work environments using kind acts.

To conclude this article I would like to recall this quote from Maya Angelou who perfectly nails the essence of kindness: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.