I used to believe that kindness involved some personal sacrifice. To me, kindness meant perpetually giving unto others. I wanted to be the person described as “she would do anything for anyone.” But what about yourself? Don't you deserve to be kinder to yourself first?
Being kinder to yourself is not selfish. In fact, in my experience, as my compassion for myself grows, so does my kindness for others. My world has grown as I have learned to show myself a more satisfying level of kindness. This kindness journey has served as a sieve in my life. Sure I’ve lost people, but I have gained deeper and more authentic connections with others.
If you are curious about how being kinder to yourself can bring more happiness into your life, this article is for you. We will also suggest 5 actionable takeaways for how you can be kinder to yourself.
What is kindness?
This dictionary defines kindness as “the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.”
Many people mistake “niceness” for “kindness,” but here’s the thing, being nice is often associated with being agreeable. It has a superficial quality to it. Kindness has more substance, warmth, and generosity.
It can be challenging to differentiate between “nice” and “kind,” so let’s use an example.
Imagine you message a friend, and when you ask them how they are, they respond with:
I’m not great, to be honest. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with life at the moment.
A nice response is: “I’m sorry to hear that; I hope you feel better soon.”
A kind response is: “I’m sorry to hear that; I’m free after work today if you want me to come round and we can talk things through.”
And just for good measure, the unkind and red flag response is: “Yeah, tell me about it. You should try having 3 children and working as many hours as I do.”
Can you see the difference?
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How does kindness make you happier?
An excellent book titled “The Five Side Effects of Kindness” by Dr. David Hamilton outlines some simple side effects of kindness.
- Kindness makes you happier.
- Kindness is good for the heart.
- Kindness slows aging.
- Kindness improves relationships.
- Kindness is contagious.
Let’s look at the claim kindness makes you happier.
It’s elementary. Doing things for other people brings us deep joy and triggers feel-good vibes. An example is the use of voluntary work as a prescription for those suffering from depression.
I do not have depression, but I am only human and have had some low times in my life. Something peculiar happened when I created a community for runners and gave up my time voluntarily to help others in their pursuit of health and connection.
I found an enormous sense of purpose and well-being that I had never experienced before.
When we act with kindness, our body releases dopamine, a feel-good hormone that can lead to feelings of elation. Some scientists call this the “helpers high.”
Science also suggests that being kind to ourselves has mental and physical benefits. For instance, practicing self-compassion exercises can lower the heart rate, which boosts our immunity.
5 ways to be kinder to yourself
Now we know what kindness is and how it can make us happier, it’s time to get to the crux of the matter. It’s one thing being kind to others, but how often are you kind to yourself? Do you even know how to be kind to yourself?
I pride myself on my kindness. But until recently, I was vile to myself. I handed out my kindness like candy to others and treated myself despicably.
Here are 5 ways you can learn to be kinder to yourself.
1. Honor yourself and your feelings
Observe how you feel. Sit within your feelings and don’t belittle or try to change or fix them.
There is no need to exaggerate or ignore feelings. But when we sit in the discomfort of some feelings, we honor ourselves. We allow ourselves to experience our emotions, which is the first stage of dealing with difficulties.
We can then show compassion to ourselves and acknowledge our feelings. It is critical to do this without judgment. Be your own safe space. Show yourself curiosity and consider why you feel the way you do. But do not chastise yourself.
When we learn to honor our true feelings, we learn to sit in the discomfort of being exactly who we are.
2. Learn to say “no”
How often do you do something because you feel you should? This behavior can look like several different things:
- Going to an event.
- Meeting up with someone.
- Spending more time than you would like with extended family.
But who’s life are we living? If we waste our one precious life being afraid of saying “no” and trying to keep others happy, we deny ourselves optimum happiness.
Over the last few years, I’ve said “no” to whatever gave me a sense of dread. I have said “no” to social events or meeting up with people I no longer felt a connection with.
Initially, I felt guilty, but over time a sense of empowerment overcame me.
Perhaps the best part is in saying “no” to friendships that no longer serve me. You know the ones. These are friendships that:
- Lack reciprocity.
- Have undergone an energy shift.
- Are unsupportive.
- Involve too much gossip.
When we learn to say “no” to what our heart suffers with, we open ourselves up to say “yes” to what our heart rejoices in. If you're looking for tips on how to let a friend go, here are some tips.
A great friend and I are now in the habit of checking if the other has the mental capacity before we offload. We are both good at being kind to ourselves. We openly say if we are already bursting mentally.
This honesty means that when we are there for each other we can give each other our full, undivided attention and energy. It also minimizes any resentment.
3. Be your own best friend
When you learn to be your best friend, you show up for yourself with acceptance and love unprecedentedly. You start to treat yourself with the compassion you usually reserve for those closest to you. This compassion promotes a beautiful and healthy relationship with yourself.
Over the last few years, I have learned to be my own best friend.
I have shown up for myself with:
Above all else, I do not scorn myself for mistakes nor indulge in judgmental thought patterns.
I try and make a habit of treating myself as I would my best friend. Some days are better than others. Give it a try and see how you get on. If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, don’t say it to yourself!
4. Embrace a healthy lifestyle
What we put into our bodies or put ourselves through can take its toll.
If you are feeling run down and exhausted, do you show kindness to yourself by giving yourself an early night? Or do you push on with your “to do” list and ignore the messages from your body?
I used to be a wild party animal. I lived a life of excess alcohol and inadequate sleep and nutrition, which became a vicious cycle.
I now recognize that living a healthy lifestyle and listening to my body’s needs are acts of kindness.
Here's how being nicer to yourself may look in practice:
- Embrace relaxation time in any way you see fit. Films and books are an excellent place to start.
- Eat healthy and nutritious foods and make sure you are hydrated.
- Exercise. Whether it’s a team sport or solo adventure, our body loves to move!
- Make sure you get enough sleep. Sleep is vital for our well-being.
Choosing a healthy lifestyle is one of the kindest things you can do for yourself.
5. Give yourself space
Life is fast. It often feels like we are spinning around, only gaining speed and becoming dizzier and dizzier.
Sometimes, we just need a break.
A break can look like many things.
- 10-minute time out from your day for meditation.
- A weekend away.
- A walk in nature.
- Unscheduled time in your diary to do as you please.
- Turning the phone on silent or do not disturb.
- Stepping away from social media.
Taking time out and claiming some space for yourself is perfectly okay. Sometimes this world can be overwhelming and intense. Often I feel like my psyche is bubbling away with such ferocity that if I don’t intervene, it will bubble over.
Giving ourselves time to relax, breathe and distract our brains is all part of the road to self-compassion.
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It’s one thing to show kindness to others; being kind to ourselves is entirely different. Remember, kindness does not require us to be self-sacrificing. When we act with kindness, we increase our happiness and well-being. And in the end, the kinder we are to ourselves, the greater our capacity to extend this kindness to others.
What's your favorite way to be kinder to yourself? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!