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Kindness Matters

There are many definitions of what it means to be kind and kindness is often entwined with related concepts like empathy, compassion, and altruism. At its core, researchers suggest that kindness is a gesture motivated by genuine, warm feelings for others. For Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, the Mental Health Foundation has chosen to highlight and celebrate kindness, to others, to ourselves, and in society more broadly, as one way to promote and protect good mental health for all.  Kindness can have real benefits for our mental health and wellbeing. In April of 2020, the Mental Health Foundation worked with YouGov to conduct an online survey of 4,246 UK adults aged 18+. We found that 63% of UK adults agree that when other people are kind it has a positive impact on their mental health, and the same proportion agree that being kind to others has a positive impact on their mental health.  Across a range of studies, people who carry out acts of kindness are found to experience greater wellbeing. This seems to be the case regardless of whether the recipient of our kindness is those close to us, society more broadly, or ourselves. There is even some evidence to suggest that simply remembering kind things we have done in the past may increase our wellbeing. There are many reasons why kindness may have this positive effect: it can boost our mood, help us feel more capable, and strengthen our relationships with others. There is also some evidence that behaviours that help or benefit others, like kindness, can help us to buffer the negative effects of stress on our health. It has been observed that times of stress can prompt people to respond with empathy and altruism. 

Being kind and understanding not just to others, but to ourselves, is also important for our mental health and wellbeing, and in our survey, nearly half (48%) of UK adults agreed that being kind to themselves has a positive impact on their mental health.  Gratitude also has an important role to play in encouraging kindness. When we express gratitude to someone who has helped us, research suggests that this can make them feel more valued and motivate them to act kindly again in future. In fact, even just feeling grateful, particularly in response to someone else’s kindness, is associated with greater wellbeing and an increase in behaviours that benefit others. Overall, kindness, to ourselves and others, has important benefits for our mental health and wellbeing.

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