Kindness Wins!

What’s the most important characteristic in a lifetime relationship partner? A recent study in the U.K. researched this question. At the University of Swansea, researchers enlisted 2,700 college students from five countries to progressively narrow down which characteristics were most important to them in a lifetime mate. And the one that emerged from all cultures was kindness.

Kindness beat out physical attractiveness, good financial prospects, humor, chastity, religiosity, the desire for children, and creativity. The finding that men and women across the globe value a similar characteristic adds weight to the idea that some behaviors are universal and develop in spite of culture rather than because of it.

Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. The fact that it seems like such a simple and natural quality begs the questions: why does it seem to be hard to find kind people? And why can it be personally challenging to be kind? In reality, being kind isn’t all that easy. Why is that and how can we be kinder?

Be aware of your critical inner voice

We are all aware of having mixed feelings toward ourselves and, at times, of being self-critical. Our mixed feelings and self-criticisms represent a split within us between forces that support and oppose our actual self. For the most part, we’re unaware of this split and of its destructive impact on our lives.

To varying degrees, we all have an enemy within, a part of ourselves that operates inside our heads in much the same way a malicious coach does, criticizing us and offering up bad advice. This enemy, with its negative point of view, is what Robert Firestone calls our critical inner voice. It speaks the malicious language of our defenses, and what it supports is not our loving, vulnerable selves but our destructive behavior and attitudes. It comments negatively on our lives and condemns our actions. It picks us apart and destroys our confidence and self-esteem. And it undermines our romantic relationships by criticizing those we love and running us down for loving them.

The critical inner voice exists in everyone. This voice works against our personal development, opposing our best interests and diminishing our sense of self. It is not our real point of view, which reflects our natural wants, our aspirations, and our desire for affiliation with others as well as our drive to be sexual, reproduce, and be creative. Rather, this voice represents a point of view that is alien to our self and promotes self-limitation, self-destruction, and animosity toward other people. Its hostile, judgmental attitudes create a negative, pessimistic picture of the world we live in.

Be kind to yourself

When we have negative views of ourselves, it’s difficult to be kind toward others. If we lack self-compassion and have harsh, judgmental attitudes toward ourselves, we extend those same feelings toward others. Therefore, it is necessary to start with being kind to yourself.

Try to become aware of ways your critical inner voice is running you down. When you make a mistake: You’re such a failure. When you feel insecure: You’re unlovable. When you’re awkward: You’re a loser. Look for how your critical inner voice is being unkind to you.

Develop self-compassion. Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure and general suffering. It is different from self-pity which is victimized and childish rather than caring and adult, and from self-esteem which is evaluative rather than concerned and feelingful.

Kristin Neff, psychologist and researcher about self-compassion, writes, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings—after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?” She goes on, “You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are. Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness.”

Be kind to others

Just as our critical inner voice attacks interfere with our being kind to ourselves, they discourage us from being kind to others. Be on the look out for voices attacking both you and people who matter to you. When you think of being generous: You’re going to be taken advantage of. When you reach out to be affectionate: You’re going to make a fool of yourself. When you offer to help: You’re insulting her; she doesn’t want your help.

It’s important to ignore these warnings and to act on your first instinct to be kind. Being kind is scary because it can make you feel vulnerable. You’re putting yourself out there to let someone know that they matter to you and that you care about them. Being kind is not only nice for the other person; it’s good for you.

Brain research has shown that smiling benefits for your body and your brain. When you smile, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are released in the bloodstream which helps the body relax and can even lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Your brain is aware of everytime you smile and actually tracks of that activity. If you smile often enough, you end up rewiring your brain to make positive patterns more often than it does negative ones. The more you smile, the more effective you are at breaking any of your brain’s tendency to think negatively.

Let others be kind to you

It’s not so easy letting someone be kind to us. For one thing, it directly conflicts with any unfriendly attitudes we have toward ourselves. It’s helpful to follow the above suggestions in order to expand your tolerance for kindness, because if you are kind to yourself and kind to others you feel worthy of receiving kindness. It’s also useful to identify the critical inner voices that are coaching you to push kindness away. When someone notices you are feeling bad and expresses concern: Keep it to yourself and tough it out. Anyway, you don’t feel that bad. When someone offers you a helping hand: You should be able to figure this out by yourself. Don’t burden them. When someone reaches out to be affectionate: You don’t need their sympathy or pity.

It’s worth it for us to challenge ourselves and extend kindness toward ourselves and to those we love and accept it from those who care about us. We will be developing and strengthening a quality that is valued all over the world. Long ago, Law-Tzu wrote: “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” And in modern times, Lady Gaga has declared: “I’ve been searching for ways to heal myself, and I’ve found that kindness is the best way.”

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