Many of us are brought up today to look after number one, to go out and get what we want—and the more of it we can have, the better.
Our society preaches survival of the fittest and often encourages us to succeed at the expense of others.
I was no different, and while I noticed a tendency to feel sorry for others and want to help, I was too busy lining my own pockets and chasing my own success to act on these impulses. I worried that kindness was me being soft and, therefore, a weakness that may hamper my progress, especially at work as I moved up the ranks.
It was only when I quit my corporate career, after years of unhappiness, to realign my values and rebuild a life around my passions that I learned the true value of kindness and how it has impacted my life since.
I volunteered overseas with those less fortunate. I lived in yoga ashrams and spent time with Buddhist nuns and monks across many different countries. I learned how compassion and kindness can be a source of strength, and since then I’ve applied this wisdom, with success, repeatedly into my own life.
Our natural response to seeing someone in distress is to want to help. We care about the suffering of others and we feel good when that suffering is released. This applies if we do it ourselves, see it in a movie, or witness it in real life. It makes us feel good. Feeling like we’re making a difference in the world and helping those who need it brings us joy; it gives us meaning.
My grandma was the most giving person I ever knew.
When her weekly pension arrived she delighted in giving the grandchildren money, even though it meant having little to spend on herself.
Family members would get upset that they bought her lovely gifts, which she then re-gifted to others, often less fortunate. Over the years I began to understand that it if she gifted it to someone else, it meant that she liked it and thought it was worthy of sharing.
Knowing the pleasure she got from giving to others and that she wasn’t in the position to buy things herself, I saw it as her getting the gift twice: the pleasure of receiving it but then also the pleasure she got from being able to give it to someone else. The recipients were always grateful and touched by her kindness too.
Buddhists say, “All the happiness there is in the world comes from us wishing others to be happy.” When we do good deeds for others it makes us feel good.
James Baraz quotes statistics on why giving is good for you in his book Awakening Joy. “According to the measures of Social Capital Community Benchmark survey, those who gave contributions of time or money were 42 percent more likely to be happy than those who didn’t.”
Psychologists even have a term for the state of euphoria reported by those who give. It’s called “helpers high,” and it’s based on the theory that neuroscience is now backing up: Giving produces endorphins in the brain that make us feel good. This activates the same part of the brain as receiving rewards or experiencing pleasure does.
Practicing kindness also helps train the mind to be more positive and see more good in the world. There’s plenty of it out there; it just doesn’t seem like it because, while the kind acts outnumber the bad, they don’t make as many headlines.
When I think back to how life was before, I realize that I wasn’t even being kind to myself, so it makes sense that I didn’t value kindness for others. I’ve learned it’s about self-respect first, and from there it’s much easier to respect others. Kindness as a skill taps into our true strength. We can respect ourselves when we are being kind to others and to our planet.
Read the rest of the blog here on Tiny Buddha