Kindness can have a powerful effect on our own mental
Getty Dan Brownsword
By Jonathan Hoban, integrative psychotherapist
The daily grind of working modern life can sometimes force us into a state of tunnel vision where our true beliefs and all that we hold close to our hearts is lost around its periphery.
This changes at one time of the year – Christmas – when we are reminded of the power a kind gesture, word, loving action or connection can have upon another.
Simple actions of altruism can be life changing for those who lack the acknowledgment from their community or society and remain invisible to others for the rest of the year. It can also have a profound effect on those who behave altruistically.
Altruism is not about grand gestures
I want to make it clear that altruism does not need to be a grand gesture for it to have meaning.
You may choose to invite a stranger for Christmas lunch or give up your day to work in a charity kitchen. You may give out socks to homeless people. Perhaps members of a club or church donate a gift to give to an old person or underprivileged child in the community and accompany it with a note of goodwill.
A single loving action like this towards another person, can suddenly remind us of who we are, what we believe in love and the importance of ‘love and kindness’.
It can remind us why we all need to feel that connection with another human being and free us from internalised thought processes, selfish and self-serving behaviour that is more often than not makes us feel more isolated, self-important and trapped within ourselves.
Julie N, from North London said: “Last year was the first year I helped Shelter during the Christmas period since I felt it was time to give something back to others who were struggling on their own.”
“The connection we were all able to make with each other was truly wonderful and very moving. Many people from all walks of life, with different histories who felt at times estranged from life, were together celebrating as a community. It reminded me about the importance of reaching out and the power a kind word or sportive action can have.”
Matthew from Wimbledon said, ‘I made a decision to become more of a part of my community when I moved here in 2014. I think I literally waited for 2 years expecting the community to come to me, before I realised it was down to me to start connecting with my locals and see where I could be of service in the community. It’s great to walk down the street and people say hello, but to be honest I now prefer the act of being kind, thoughtful and giving without expecting any comeback from it. Who’d have thought it!’
Those who are more altruistic will also produce far greater levels of dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins the ‘feel-good’ hormones which are vital and highly beneficial to our mental wellbeing.
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I asked three people randomly in the street if they had ever done a selfless good deed, and how it left them feeling.
All three realised that even though their actions weren’t solely to promote their own sense of well-being – on reflection they recognised just how positively it had promoted their mind set – and remained significant in their memories.
Being more altruistic at Christmas time challenges the secondary, selfish belief systems we subconsciously construct during the rest of the year without knowing, and transports us back to a world where human connection and simple positive actions take priority.
Altruism and giving up power
Being a little more altruistic challenges our perception of status and power when we connect on one level, person to person. It can smash down the boundaries of diversity and remind us the power and profound affect listening, being present, showing concern, love and empathy can have upon another person.
- Try to be more mindful of other people’s feelings other than your own. Take yourself off centre stage for a while.
- Ask how you can be of service to another person, at work at home, or to a stranger.
- Remember someone who has helped you in the past, give them a call and ask them how they are doing or if they need any help.
- Ask complete a stranger how they are doing and truly listen to their response without constructing your immediate reply.
- See which charities need support or an community event that needs support in your local area.
SAD and altruism
As winter nights draw in many of us will suffer from SAD, seasonal affective disorder without realising. As a result our mindset can more often than not revert to more introspective negative thinking, therefore any behaviour that can reverse this process is more than welcome in our lives.
If there are some more selfish, creative incentives to become more altruistic, so be it, especially if it benefits someone else’s wellbeing and mental health in the process. Is that so wrong?
To be honest making a loving gesture during any time of year brings us one step closer to changing the world for the better.
It reminds us all why it’s so important to try and integrate this loving action within our daily lives.
Those who have shown to be more altruistic in their lives, rarely feel ‘alone in this world’, ‘lonely’ or ‘on their own’. A loving action connects us, show us that we are all the same and each deserve the attention, acknowledgment and respect. An act of kindness or a kind word each day reminds us all of the presence of love and kindness. And it’s free. We live this life together after all so let’s act accordingly.