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What Does It Mean to Be Kind? The Research and Daily Life

by Marianne Navada

Studies on kindness and wellbeing show that acts of kindness positively impact those who receive and also those who bestow acts of kindness. Essentially, when you go out of your way to help someone, you’re also helping yourself.

But these studies however, define kindness narrowly. Measuring kindness is usually limited to: giving (be it time or money), such as volunteering or donating, random acts of kindness, such as giving your seat to a stranger in a bus, and family members supporting loved ones, grandparents baby-sitting their grandkids for example. 

But what about decisions we make in life, be it in the workplace or with friends? How can we practice kindness in more involved situations in our lives?

Life in General

Life doesn’t present such a neat picture of kindness all the time. Everyday, we make decisions that might seem kind to others, but will inconvenience some, and may even cause discomfort to ourselves. Kindness takes on a multi-faceted picture. Take this, your parents tell you that they want you to marry someone with the same religious beliefs. You know defying their wish will make them miserable, but granting it will make you miserable and the person you love, because it means calling it quits with your current partner. How can we practice kindness, in this messy decision-making process?

How about a friend who needs money and asks you for a loan, reminding you that without the loan, the bank will foreclose on their home. Currently you have money to lend your friend, but you planned to pay off your student loans in full, which will relieve a lot of stress for you. What is the kind thing to do?

Never as straightforward as it seems, making kindness the hallmark of life decisions forces us to think about our priorities, and what we truly believe works for our peace of mind. This also includes understanding who and what we are trying to help.

Healthy Boundaries and Archetypes

Perhaps one of the most informative ways to deal with making decisions on kindness lies in setting “healthy boundaries”. One way to help define boundaries and allow us to frame situations is through archetypes. These archetypes are based on a comment thread, which provides categories on altruism and generosity. The hope is that these archetypes will allow you to define where your own healthy boundaries rest when it comes to dealing with people and situations.

These archetypes let us determine how we are behaving, and also how others are treating us. 

The Archetypes 

  • Victim: I can’t help myself, but I expect people to help me.
  • Aloof: I don’t expect help from anyone, so I don’t help others.
  • Exploiter: I don’t help anyone, but I get people to help me.
  • Doormat: I help everyone, even if I sacrifice my own needs, happiness, and wants. 

We will each have our own healthy boundary depending on who we deal with, the situation, and where we are in our lives. I find that these archetypes work well in involved situations. Sometimes, random acts of kindness to strangers don’t need this level of analysis. I doubt Keanu Reeves, known for his acts of kindness, goes through these calculations when he helps strangers.

Never as straightforward as it seems, making kindness the hallmark of life decisions forces us to think about our priorities, and what we truly believe works for our peace of mind. This also includes understanding who and what we are trying to help.

Emotional Blackmail

Another concept to take into account when figuring out how to act based on kindness is the concept of emotional blackmail. This happens when people get us to do things by making us feel bad about ourselves, or guilting us towards acting the way they want us to behave. Assess when you’re doing this to someone, or when someone does it to you.

The More You Know

The health benefits of acting kind, according to studies include: lower cholesterol, high blood, glucose, and inflammation levels. People who display acts of kindness experience less pain and can make us stronger. Findings apply worldwide, regardless of culture.

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