Words: Jonathan McIntosh
Whether it’s holding a door open for a stranger or surprising someone special with a treat, performing an act of kindness boosts our wellbeing. Taking place on 13 November each year, World Kindness Day is an ideal chance to do something nice for someone while stocking up on those warm and fuzzy feel-good endorphins. Here, we explore the day’s origins and examine the psychology central to kindness to see why a daily dose of it can do us a world of good.
Creating a compassionate culture
World Kindness Day 2023 is an annual global celebration that’s dedicated to promoting the importance of being kind to yourself, to others and to the world. The day is a reminder of how empathy, understanding and practising kindness in our everyday lives can help create a more harmonious and caring world. By carrying out intentional acts of kindness, it is thought that we can help create a kinder, more compassionate culture that transcends the issues that divide humanity.
Today, the event is celebrated worldwide, but it wasn’t always that way. It was first thought up in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, an organisation formed a year prior at a Tokyo conference of kindness institutions from different countries – including the UK, Australia, the US and Thailand. Participants wanted to highlight the need for a unified global kindness movement, and the group was formed under the written declaration to “join together to build a kind and more compassionate world”.
It was felt that an annual event was needed “to highlight good deeds in the community focusing on the positive power and the common thread of kindness that binds us.” And thus, World Kindness Day came into being.
From its grassroot beginnings to the present day, World Kindness Day is recognised worldwide, and the World Kindness Movement has grown in stature too – currently comprising 28 member countries.
Even though it’s still an unofficial day, the World Kindness Movement hopes to achieve recognition status by the United Nations. If successful, this day that celebrates compassion will join the ranks of well-recognised observance days, including Human Rights Day, World Health Day, and International Day of Peace.
It’s cool to be kind
World Kindness Day has inspired some truly one-of-a-kind events, from 10,000 free chocolate bars being handed out at London train stations by Kindness UK and the Singapore Kindness Movement’s gifting of 30,000 Gerbera flowers to passers-by to a worldwide flash mob organised by Life Vest Inside. World Kindness Australia has even delivered an enormous hug on Bondi Beach.
But kindness doesn’t just exist in the grand gestures. It lies in the little everyday things we can do for one another too. You might decide to pay for someone’s food when you’re waiting for something tasty at the drive-thru. Or you could call someone special to say how much you love and appreciate them. Helping a neighbour home with their shopping could mean a lot to them, or you might volunteer for a charity whose cause is close to your heart. Or how about putting the kettle on and having a cuppa with a person you’ve not spoken to in a while? The opportunities to bring a bit of sunshine to someone’s life on World Kindness Day are endless; setting aside a little time could make a big difference.
Kindness keeps us alive and kicking
Being kind feels good; it’s nice to be nice, after all. But did you know that performing acts of kindness can do wonders for our physical and mental wellbeing too?
Showing kindness releases a cocktail of feel-good chemicals into your bloodstream. This includes serotonin and dopamine, which provide feelings of satisfaction and wellbeing. They activate the pleasure and reward centres of both the kindness givers and receivers. Endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller, are also produced when we do something nice – contributing to a phenomenon known as the “helper’s high”.
Doing something nice may make our hearts swell, but their overall health can reap the rewards too. Good deeds release the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin, which boosts the production of nitric oxide in blood vessels, dilating them and lowering blood pressure.
Higher oxytocin levels lower our stress levels too. In this sense, kindness is something of a stressbuster. Those who practise kindness often apparently age at a slower rate than those who find themselves consistently highly strung. Scientists have found that if you introduce the kindness hormone, oxytocin, to skin cells under stress, the levels of oxidative stress are reduced significantly. A study by the University of British Columbia also found that those who are consistently kind produce 23% less of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Kindness is contagious. The more kind things we do, the kinder other people are likely to be in return. From a psychological perspective, this is an example of activating mirror neurons, also known as modelling behaviours. This explains why you can’t help but smile back when someone flashes you a cheesy grin. Kindness strengthens our bonds with each other. And this sense of connection can also spike the immune system into action to help the body fight off viruses and infection.
Join the movement
In our case for kindness, it’s clear that there are many physical, mental and emotional wellbeing benefits to doing something selfless for someone else. But when we’re focused on the busyness of our everyday lives, it can be easy to forget to take a moment and think about the little things you can do to brighten someone’s day.
So, after World Kindness Day 2023, why not commit to delivering regular doses of kindness? Whether it’s complimenting a work colleague or letting your partner have control of tonight’s Netflix viewing, it all makes a positive difference. Kindness is catching. Let’s pass it on.
Click here for some inspiration to spread joy this World Kindness Day and beyond.