Kindness is best prescription

Pharmaceutical companies must love cold-and-flu season. Even the people who don’t go to the doctor buy chemical concoctions to make them feel better.

But we don’t need to go to the doctor or drugstore. We can write a prescription ourselves, even if we aren’t sick, because it’s preventative as well as curative.

The prescription is kindness. But we don’t have to be kind because it’s the nice thing to do; we act kindly because it’s good for our physical and mental health.

Odd, isn’t it, that the most selfish thing we can do is help others.

That isn’t touchy-feely, warm and cuddly stuff. It’s cold science. Numerous studies show kindness causes significant health benefits, both physical and mental.

Kindness is a factor no matter where we are on the spectrum: from the first charka to the seventh, from survival to self-actualization, from biology to spirituality.

Being kind helped our ancestors survive in the jungles of Africa and it helps us survive in the workplace; when we’re kind to others, whether it was sharing food during a famine, or helping a stressed colleague finish a project, they reciprocate.

That’s survival and biology.

Jesus said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me,” while the Dalai Lama said, “my religion is kindness.”

That’s self-actualization and spirituality.

In his 1991 book, The Healing Power of Doing Good: The Health and Spiritual Benefits of Helping Others, Allan Luks, former executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of Health, documented a study he had done with 3,000 people.

His conclusion: “Helping contributes to the maintenance of good health, and it can diminish the effect of diseases and disorders both serious and minor, psychological and physical."

Helping others can enhance feelings of joy, emotional resilience, and vigour. It also:

  • reduces our sense of isolation
  • decreases the intensity of physical pain
  • increases our sense of self-worth, happiness, and optimism
  • feelings of helplessness and depression.
  • Kindness can be as simple as smiling at a harried grocery store clerk, being patient if he makes a mistake or complimenting her on how she handled a difficult customer.

There’s even a week — Random Acts of Kindness Week — where we can practise being kind so we can get in shape for the rest of the year. In the event our niceness muscles have atrophied, here are a few random exercises to kick-start our kindness regimen.

Check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website: http://www.actsofkindness.org/.

  • Pick up litter
  • Take a dog for a walk at the SPCA animal shelter
  • Pay for the coffee and dessert of someone in a restaurant
  • Donate blood
  • Become a volunteer
  • Praise the work or attitude of a co-worker
  • Bring coffee or tea to a colleague
  • Say good morning to everyone
  • Give a compliment, especially to a spouse or a child
  • Practise non-judgment.

“Isn't it amazing how often we can touch someone's life, and enrich our own, by a very simple act? Kindness, pass it on ... what a wonderful way in which to pattern our lives,” Betty, a community worker in Washington is quoted on the Random Acts of Kindness website.

Since we often treat people how they treat us, we can take the initiative with one act of kindness and start a ripple effect that ends up washing over us.

“One synonym for the word kindness is the term humanity,” Claire Buckis wrote in a Reader’s Digest article. “Kindness is essentially a recognition of the fact that we’re all human, an acknowledgement that we’re all in this together.

“Most of what makes life worth living depends on at least some of us being altruistic some of the time,” Professor Sam Bowles told her. “We cannot address problems like global climate change, the spread of disease and political violence by appealing only to selfish motives.”

Bowles published a study showing people resent the idea of being offered a reward to do good. “People enjoy being kind to others much as they enjoy eating ice-cream. It gives us pleasure.”

Hans Selye, the Montreal doctor who coined the word stress, also came up with the term altruistic egoism as a way to combat it.

His prescription was to do good for self by helping others with “the creation of feelings of accomplishment and security through the inspiration in others of love, good will and gratitude for what we have done or are likely to do in the future.”

We can start being kind this week, practise all spring and summer for World Kindness Week World Kindness Day, in November just in time for the start of the next cold-and-flu season.

A few more random thoughts about kindness:

“When I was young, I admired clever people. Now, that I am old, I admire kind people.”  — Joshua Heschel

“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” — Aesop

“The ideas that have lighted my way have been kindness, beauty and truth.” — Albert Einstein

“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate."”— Albert Schweitzer

“Kindness is the kingpin of success in life, it is the prime factor in overcoming friction and making the human machinery run smoothly.” — Andrew Chapman

Unlike the United States, we don’t pledge allegiance to the flag, we can, however, pledge to ourselves that we will be kind, just like students at St. Vladimir School in Edmonton:

I pledge to myself, on this day,
To try to be kind, in every way.
To every person, big and small,
I will help them if they fall.
When I love myself and others, too,
That is the best that I can do!

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About the Author

Ross Freake, a former managing editor of The Daily Courier, has worked at 11 newspapers from St. John's to Kamloops. He is the author of three books and the editor and ghost writer of many others.

He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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