We have all heard the saying “nice guys finish last.” I confess that there have been times in my life that I have uttered the phrase myself. Kindness sometimes seems to be an unpopular characteristic in an increasingly materialistic and “what’s-in-it-for-me” society. But, for anyone who has struggled with mental illness, kindness from others can make a world of difference. When I am in the midst of depression, my self-worth suffers tremendously. I am sensitive to even the most innocuous statements that I interpret as negative or critical. A kind word, smile, or hug can make an awful day bearable. I am forever thankful for the gift of kindness that I have received from family, friends and strangers alike.
The good news about kindness doesn’t end there – showing compassion to others can actually positively impact your own health. We probably all recognize this from our own experiences – that warm feeling you get when you help someone else – but there are now a variety of solid research studies that have documented the mental and physical health benefits that practicing even small acts of kindness can provide. For example, various studies have proven that volunteers enjoyed higher life satisfaction, had fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, greater life expectancy, and better overall physical health. Incredibly, giving help had a greater positive effect than receiving it from others.1
As humans, we are wired for connection. Kindness and compassion can build bridges between people – family, acquaintances, strangers, maybe even adversaries. Why not make kindness a habit? It doesn’t have to be a grand or costly act; small, daily practices are all that is needed to reap the benefits for you and brighten someone else’s day. Drop a coin in that expired parking meter you are walking past. Cut your neighbour’s lawn. Tell a colleague how much you appreciate their contribution. Donate some groceries to a food bank. Sit with a friend and genuinely listen to what they are saying. Smile at a stranger. You have nothing to lose, and so much to gain.
My religion is simple. My religion is kindness – Dalai Lama
1Post, S. G. (2005). Altruism, happiness, and health: it’s good to be good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12(2), 66-77.
About Susan Mifsud
Susan Mifsud is a 49 year old mother of two adult sons who has worked in university administration for the last 25 years. She is an active volunteer and advocate in support of the elimination of stigma and shame related to mental illness and addiction. Follow Susan’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds blog or additionally follow Susan on Twitter.