Thriving Together Well-Being Weekly: Intentional Acts of Kindness

by Wilson Hurley, LCSW

Thriving Together Well-Being Weekly: Intentional Acts of Kindness

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., human rights leader

This edition of the Thriving Together Well-Being Weekly was written by Wilson Hurley, LCSW, an adjunct professor in Mason’s Social Work Department who is also clinical social worker in private practice.

Turning Frustrating Circumstances into Opportunities for Kindness

As we all deal with the new normal brought on by COVID 19, it is more important than ever to maintain equilibrium, positive relationships, and good health.  Frustration and anger can throw us into disequilibrium and damage our relationships and health, according to research. Most of us end up regretting decisions made in the heat of the moment. But, when something triggers us, if we allow ourselves time to slow down, take some mindful breaths, and try to move from frustration into kindness, our decisions and actions can have better outcomes.

Ruminating on anger merely increases it. In contrast, micro moments of kind thoughts can help us de-escalate and move back into positive emotions. With time, the cooling waters of kindness can extinguish flames of anger, and we can become clearer and more effective in problem solving. Within a state of kindness and self-compassion, it can help to consider the messages our anger is sending us:

  • Is my anger about an injustice? If so, what’s the best way to advocate for change?
  • Is my anger about a wound to self-esteem? If so, how can I heal it and move forward?
  • Am I reacting because I’m drained, tired, or hungry? If so, I how can I take care of myself?
  • Has something blocked me from my goals? If so, how might I fix the problem, or must I learn to accept it? 

The Benefits of Acting with Kindness

Kindness is a wish that we and others have happiness and its causes. It brings many benefits to ourselves and others:

  • Kindness enhances positive affect, and decreases negative emotions
  • It activates parts of our brains that deal with processing emotions and empathy
  • Kindness reduces interpersonal conflict, social anxiety, and anger
  • It increases our coping ability when dealing with long-term caregiving, research reveals

By helping our minds transition from angry initial responses into calmer, kinder states of mind, we can respond to difficulties in more helpful ways. When we engage in intentional acts of kindness:

  • It makes us feel good, causing a release of endorphins and oxytocin
  • There is more likelihood that our activities will be successful
  • Our actions help others while also boosting our own mental health
  • It causes more cooperation in our social networks, encouraging others to help
  • We receive many other psychological and physiological benefits, research shows

Intentional acts of kindness forge positive relationships with family members, colleagues, and communities. We all appreciate being treated with kindness, especially when faced with difficult circumstances. Where anger fractures bonds, kindness can heal them. Kindness is also a pleasant mental state to cultivate.

Exercises for Building Kindness and Acts of Kindness

Moving from anger into kindness:

* Spend a few moments noticing your breath, breathing in calm and breathing out your frustration

* Try to discern the source of your anger: what triggered it, what are different possible safe solutions to the problem that provoked it?

* Make a plan to try the safest, kindest, and most sensible choice.

Expanding kindness:

* Noticing your breath, say to yourself, “May I be happy, healthy, and secure.” Wish the same things for family, friends, your community, and everyone.

* Imagine as you breathe in that you are breathing a soothing light of well-being. As you breathe out, you can extend that light of well-being to family, friends, your community, and everyone.

* If you start to feel a positive feeling of kindness, hold it for a while.

Engaging in intentional acts of kindness:

* Think of someone you know who needs support.

* Make a plan for a kind action you can do to help that person feel supported.

* Carry out your plan.

Additional Resources 

COMPASS is a systematic method for enhancing kindness and compassionate insight. You can find a free mini course on COMPASS here.

These resources from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation can help you incoporate kindness into your daily life.

These worksheets from Positive Psychology.com offer ideas for kindness and empathy activities.