Kindness: Definition, Ideas, & Examples
What is the definition of kindness and how do you bring more kindness into your life? Discover ways to show and practice kindness that boost your happiness and well-being.
*This page may include affiliate links; that means I earn from qualifying purchases of products.
Definition of Kindness
Kindness has been defined as actions intended to benefit others. It may also be defined as "having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature, and as encompassing gentleness, respect, amiability, and concern" (Johnstone, 2010).
Some have suggested that kindness should be distinguished from "acts of kindness" or ethical behavior because true kindness—the type of kindness that improves our well-being—comes from a desire to be kind. In fact, practicing kindness when you don't want to can make you feel obligated or even resentful. That's why I believe each person needs to define kindness in their own way.
What Is Kindness to You?
If we want to increase our happiness and well-being, we need to engage in acts of kindness that feel right for us. For example, let's say Jane decides to be kind by volunteering at a women's health clinic. If Jane is pro-choice, this might make her feel great. But if Jane is pro-life, this type of kindness and volunteering might make her feel awful. All this is to say that before engaging in acts of kindness, we should take a moment to think through what kindness means to us and what types of kindness would make us feel good.
Why Choose Kindness?
Across many studies, kindness has been linked to greater well-being. For example, research has looked at spending money on others as well as practicing random acts of kindness as two common ways that people can increase happiness through kindness. Importantly, the benefits of kindness don't seem to depend on who we give our kindness to—being kind to strong ties, weak ties, and self have equally positive effects on happiness (Rowland & Curry, 2019). Indeed, a growing consensus in the happiness field suggests that kindness may just be the best way to increase happiness.
Acts of Kindness
There are multiple different types of kindness. One analysis of the research identified the four types below (Curry et al., 2018).
1. Kin Altruism
This is our natural tendency to be kind to our families. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective because positive relationships within the family were likely to help the family survive and succeed.
We tend to be kind towards members of our own communities. Mutualism helps explain things like loyalty, solidarity, and camaraderie, as we often strive to be kind to members of the groups we are part of.
3. Reciprocal Altruism
We actually are kinder to people who have been kind to us in the past. This helps explain why we return favors and why we are grateful to people who do us favors.
4. Competitive Altruism
We are more likely to be kind to others when it enhances our status. Ever notice yourself being nicer to the boss or someone popular? That's competitive altruism at work.
Loving-kindness mediation is growing in popularity given its success in boosting positive emotions and other positive outcomes. Loving-kindness meditation is a meditation that's used to increase feelings of warmth and caring for self and others. It involves quiet contemplation that directs one’s emotions toward warm and tender feelings they have about themselves and others.
To start the loving-kindness meditation, first focus on your heart region and think about a person you already feel warm and kind feelings for. Then extend these kind feelings yourself. Next, extend them to a wider circle of friends and family. Then extend these feelings to acquaintances, strangers, then everyone (Fredrickson et al., 2008).
This practice can not only help you generate positive emotions, but it can also help you build the intention of kindness, and when this is practiced more in your daily life, it can further promote happiness and well-being.
Video: Guided Loving-Kindness Meditation
Another way to practice and spread kindness is with kindness rocks. Kindness rocks are little painted rocks with quotes and kind words on them. You can take one when you need one or leave one for someone else to take later. Here are some examples and inspiration.
Here are some kindness quotes that may give you inspiration:
World Kindness Day
Don't forget to celebrate world kindness day on November 13th!
Activities to Develop Kindness
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.