It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week and the theme is kindness.
It’s well chosen. There is growing evidence that acts of kindness to others boost our own mental wellbeing. And if you do lots of acts on one day the effect is amplified. Kind people are happier people.
It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture to have an impact. Something as simple as telling someone you appreciate them can be just as valuable as making a big donation.
Kindness is like a glue that secures our connection to people. It binds us to others and the more we offer, the more we tend to receive, a virtuous circle of kindness. It matters because ahead of everything, humans are social creatures. Even those of us who feel comfortable in our own company need close relationships to thrive.
Taking the opportunity presented, I’ve reflected on kindness this week. I remember a moment last year when a friend noticed I was feeling overwhelmed. We were outside and it was the early evening and I was barely keeping it together. She went away and quietly came back with a chilled glass of Cremant. She’d noticed me and found a gentle way to let me know, without drawing attention to me, something I would have found intolerable. 12 months later, the care embodied by her simple action is still with me. My act of kindness today is to let her know I remember.
A kind environment is also more likely to be a safe environment. I don’t mean sugary and sweet kindness. That sort of kindness is likely to be much more about the person performing the act of kindness rather than the person receiving. They might think their act is in the interests of the other, but the truth is it’s probably more about them. Buying someone a cake on their birthday and gathering everyone in the office around to sing happy birthday may sound great, but if that sort of attention feels like torture then there’s nothing kind about it.
True kindness is attuned. The actions are rooted in empathy and motivated by the real needs and wishes of the other. The act of my friend was all about me, not her. She gave me what she saw I needed. Performed quietly, there was not even any recognition for her beyond my appreciation.
And a safe workplace is important. When we feel safe, we can be productive and creative problem solvers but when we don’t the opposite is true. If we feel unsafe, our focus narrows. We might be defensively prickly. We can literally not hear what people are saying.
Kindness flourishes where it has the space to do so, where people are respected, supported and given the space and time to reflect.
It will also flourish if we make it a habit. Be active in being kind, every day asking yourself what genuine act of kindness have I done today. Our neural pathways will slowly but surely re-wire until frequent, consistent and genuine acts of kindness become just our natural way of being. Setting the goal of performing at least one act of kindness each day, thinking about what might stop you and working a way around it, and sticking a reminder to do so on the fridge will help turn the ambition into a habit.
What a lovely way to boost wellbeing.