Kind is magic
4th Mar 2019
Counsellor and wellbeing journalist Sara Niven describes the power of small acts of kindness.
Mother's Day this month is a timely reminder to let our mums know how much we appreciate them. How often, though, do we take the time to show appreciation and an extra touch of kindness to family and friends with no special occasion involved?
I started thinking about this after arriving home recently to what I often regard as the 'pile of dread' – the post. I can't be the only one who feels this generally involves letters from companies urging you to spend money or letters from banks telling you there’s none to spend.
On this particular day, there was a card. I recognised the handwriting as a friend's, but felt confused. It wasn't my birthday and in this age of social media, snail mail is rare. When I opened it, out fell £20 with a note about a conversation we'd had. It related to something I'd mentioned wanting to do but was struggling to justify financially. My friend was contributing towards it, telling me how much they valued my friendship and encouraging me to go ahead.
It is hard to explain the impact that card had, not just on my mood that day but on my mindset in the weeks that followed. It was not about the money (although knowing her circumstances, that was significant).
The fact she had remembered what I’d said and wanted to help was wonderful in itself. But this was also a friend who recently lost a much-loved family member very tragically. I was humbled by the fact she even had the emotional energy to consider me in the circumstances.
Perhaps unknowingly, she was doing both of us a favour. According to author and spiritual teacher, William Bloom, there is a hidden benefit to every altruistic act that applies to the giver as much as the receiver.
"From childhood many people have a quiet knowing that being a good person and caring for others makes the world a better place,” explains William, founder and director of the Spiritual Companions Trust, an educational charity focusing on a holistic approach to health.
"Being kind is good too for our own health. It is programmed into our mammalian DNA. When we care for others our body chemistry adapts and softens in a way that is physiologically beneficial. It is nature’s way of rewarding us for being kind. Caring for others also brings the emotional and psychological benefits of integrity, meaning and self-respect. And it builds community."
A couple of days after receiving that card, I experienced my own loss with the death of my father. During the difficult time that followed, numerous people came forward to say how much they had appreciated his various acts of kindness. Some anecdotes related to events decades ago but ones that still stood out for them.
It has been an eye opener to realise from both sides, just how much we can touch someone's life in a memorable way with even relatively small actions; words of encouragement, a heartfelt card or call, an offer of practical or financial help depending on our situation and theirs. Not just at predictable times such as Christmas and birthdays (or Mother's Day), or limited to a comment or like on social media (as handy as that is). But ideally something a little more personal when someone least expects it but may be most in need of it.
As a result of my friend's thoughtfulness and some of the stories from people who knew my father, I have been trying to pay forward a few small random acts of kindness and gratitude. Life is hectic and our heads are often so full of our own worries that despite good intentions, we fail to notice others close to us may be struggling. I realise I’m often guilty of that.
What’s more, my friend has shown me that even when experiencing dark times yourself, it is possible to bring light to others. And that as William Bloom points out, that could even help put a little back into our own.
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