So it turns out 2020 is a pretty tough year, wherever you are in the world. Some people are mildly affected by world events and for others the impact is really quite severe. Managing the changes that have come about as a result of COVID-19 is starting to take a toll on the mental health of some people.
But is it possible to do something to minimise the impact? It turns out that research which has been done in the field of psychology over the last 20 or so years shows is that there is something that we can do which doesn’t cost money, but has a measurable impact on our happiness.
It’s true that this particular activity becomes more challenging at times like this. Many people are experiencing increases in frustration, irritability, feelings of anger and helplessness. But it still possible to turn your mind to doing something that can change this experience.
I’m talking about kindness. Kindness means being friendly, considerate and generous to others with no intention of deliberately seeking any reward in return. In other words, doing something nice for someone else, just because you can.
The research that focuses on what happens when kindness is displayed is truly amazing. For example, this piece from the British Psychological Society found that a person’s happiness increases after just seven days of performing acts of kindness and that the more acts of kindness you do, the happier you feel!
Other research has demonstrated that being kind improves the way other people perceive you and accept you and it leads to reductions in risk for various diseases. Being kind also improves your ability to manage your own emotional responses in different situations more effectively.
Researchers from KindLab at Kindness.org have demonstrated that being kind is a more important attribute than physical attractiveness in a potential mate. Doctors who expressed kindness see better outcomes in their patients. Kindness can lower the effects of stress and also help to lower levels of anxiety in particular situations.
So being kind not only benefits the person who is experiencing that kindness. It also benefits the person whose displaying it in so many ways. People who act kindly tend to feel better, experience better health, a bright a view of the world, more likely to be thought well of by others, have better emotional control and likely experience fewer impacts from stress and anxiety.
If you want to get some kindness into your life, what can you do?
My two favourite types of kindness activities are RAOK and TAOK – Random Acts of Kindness and Targeted Acts of Kindness.
Random acts of kindness are relatively easy and almost all of them can be done without spending a single dollar and without impacting your own time or your daily routine. All you need to do is keep your eyes open for opportunities and be bold enough to step in. Some of my favourites are offering to reach for things on supermarket shelves for other people or offering to help people lift things in or out of the car boot. You can also let other drivers merge in front of you or pick up litter from the beach or your street. One of my top favourites does actually involve spending a small amount of money. When I go to my local café for a coffee, I love to pay for an extra one for the next person who happens to be in the line.
Targeted Acts of Kindness are for people who are significant in your life – partners, children, parents and neighbours. Here’s how you can carry out one of these:
First of all, bring to mind the person that you want to do this for. Think of something that they would really enjoy. If you’re going to spend money, it shouldn’t cost any more than say, $10.
Secondly it must not be something that you are currently doing or have recently done. So if your plan is to do your spouse a favour on a Saturday night and wash the dishes after dinner but you always do this - although it might be a kind act, it doesn’t count for this exercise. Instead, pick something that they’re not likely to be expecting.
Thirdly, you mustn’t announce that you’re doing it ahead of time and if they ask you why you did it, just respond by saying “No reason – I felt like it.”
That’s it! Easy to do, typically zero cost, little to no inconvenience to you and the benefits for the other person and you are huge!
Keeping an optimistic outlook and a bright mood when things in the world feel like they’re pushing back against that can be a challenge. Remember, there are always small things that we can do that will make a small difference to how we experience life on that day. If we do those things for enough days, we begin to change how we experience that week. And if we do it for enough weeks… well, you get the picture.
Simon Matthews FASLM, MHlthSci, DipIBLM, MAPS
Writing exclusively for MindRazr, Simon is the CEO of Wellcoaches® Australia, an AHPRA Registered Psychologist, Board Certified Lifestyle Medicine Professional, Fellow of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine and Fitness Trainer.