One of my girlfriends sent a topless picture to her new boyfriend the other day.
His response blew my mind: “I love your smile! That’s super sexy. And you’re such a kind person.”
Wow! No saucy comments about her bare chest—instead, it was the cutest compliment I’ve heard in a long time. (I am a huge fan of being called kind. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.)
I’ve joyfully noticed a shift in society. We’re clearly moving toward appreciating the basic goodness in others, and away from just admiring thin bodies or impressive bios. Kindness and compassion are the new sexy.
When I listen to people talking around me nowadays, I hear a change in vocabulary.
There are fewer terms like elbow mentality, success, model shape, or strive. Suddenly we’re using phrases like acceptance, happiness, compassion, and “be kind” more often. Instead of hammering only formulas and grammar into children’s brains in school, teaching social-emotional skills like empathy is a thing now.
Websites and Facebook pages are called “Random Acts of Kindness,” “Kindness Rocks Project,” or—a personal favourite—“Kindness is so Gangster.” Hit Google up with the word kindness, and it offers 123 million entries. Finally, with my new discovery of Instagram (yes, it did take me that long), I counted 100 hashtags including the word kindness.
I see people wearing their kindness shirts in the streets prouder than we wore plateau sneakers in the 90s: “Kindness is free. Sprinkle that stuff everywhere.” A little cheesy, yes, but it hits the nail on the head.
The Oxford Dictionary simply defines kindness as the “qualities of being friendly, generous and, considerate.” Outside of the dictionary, however, kindness is an action.
Acts of kindness don’t have to be a huge deal or cost a ton: a loving smile, an honest compliment. Picking up that heavy grocery bag for the elder lady living next door. Taking a deep breath to calm down before lashing back at someone. Trying to be a nice human being.
Sadly, in a world still full of competition and hustle, kindness is sometimes interpreted as weakness, passiveness, or even submissiveness—but it is so far from any of those. Kindness calls for strength. For courage. And sometimes going the proverbial extra mile.
Sometimes, we wonder: What’s in it for me? Why should I even bother to be kind? Isn’t that just some hippie-dippy stuff?
If not for obvious reasons (the nice feelings we get from being nice), current scientific research presents us some pretty selfish arguments, making kindness as tasty as a freshly baked fudge brownie:
Being kind actually makes us happier.
Oxford University conducted a meta-analysis (a statistical review method that combines and calculates the findings of multiple studies on the same subject) in 2016, looking at the effects of kindness on our perceived happiness. They included 21 scientific studies and confirmed what we might have hoped for: kindness boosts our happiness and well-being. (To be fair, the scientist described the effects as modest, meaning the effects were not exorbitant but are pointing in the right direction. More research needs to be conducted at this early stage.)
The meta-analysis was commissioned by Kindness.org, a nonprofit organisation that believes strongly in the “power of kindness to reshape our world.” Kindness.org then went a step further and started their own kindness experiment in 2017, called the “Seven Days of Intentional Kindness” with 691 volunteers from their online community. Each person was randomly appointed to an intervention group who performed kind acts over the course of seven days, or a control group which did not get to enjoy the joy of being kind on purpose.
Participants could choose from a list of suggested kind acts, like paying for someone’s coffee, or come up with their own. Kind behaviour included kindness toward friends, family, strangers, and oneself, and also simply observing other kind acts happening around them.
Before and after the experiment, the volunteers filled out a survey, answering questions like, “Generally, how happy have you felt over the last 24 hours on a scale from 0 to 10?”
After seven days, those in the intervention group reported that their happiness and satisfaction had noticeably increased. Participants also expressed a deeper feeling of trust in and connection with society. Those findings are in alignment with my personal experience: spreading kindness induces a sense of belonging, contentment, and yes, happiness within me. I literally feel better.
Interestingly, it did not seem to matter if kindness was geared toward friends or strangers. Or if it was simply observed in others.
My favourite conclusion of the “Seven Days of Intentional Kindness” project: the more, the merrier. Meaning, the more kind acts people indulged in, the happier they were (finally, a way to pamper ourselves without remorse).
Circling back to my girlfriend, funnily enough, her face went slightly sour when first reading her lover’s response. Previous boyfriends had always been “a little more excited” about her cheeky pictures.
After a few minutes of pouting, however, her face turned bright with a giant smile:
“He thinks kind is the new sexy. I guess he’s a keeper.”