Kindness matters guide

We're all familiar with the saying “it's better to give than receive”. What might surprise you is that this is actually backed up by research.

Those of us who are kind and compassionate experience clear benefits to our well-being and happiness. We may even live longer. Kindness also helps reduce stress and improve our emotional well-being.1,2

We all have so much going on in our lives - competing strains and stresses – not to mention the recent coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns. This has sometimes pushed kindness to one side, in favour of what is urgent now.

It can be easy to show kindness when posting online, but when it comes to reality it's harder to commit to kindness in our real-life words and actions.

By taking the time to be kind to others, we can benefit from emotional upsides. It really does make a difference, especially for people who are vulnerable or struggling.

With everything that's going on in the world, now is the time to help make a kinder society that improves our mental health.

Colourful graphic with the text 'kindness'

Kindness should be built into business decisions, government policy, and other official systems in a way that supports everyone’s mental health and also reduces discrimination and inequality. That can start with individual commitments to showing kindness in our words and our actions.

This guide is written to demonstrate the positive effect that helping others can have on your own mental health, including some suggestions that will inspire you.

Take a few minutes, have a read, and think about doing something kind for a friend or a stranger today.

Mark Rowland, CEO of the Mental Health Foundation

What do we mean by kindness? 

Kindness is choosing to do something that helps others or yourself, motivated by genuine warm feelings. 

Kindness, or doing good, often means putting other people’s needs before our own. It could be by giving up our seat on a bus to someone who might need it more, or offering to make a cup of tea for someone at work.

Evidence shows that helping others can also benefit our own mental health and wellbeing. For example, it can reduce stress as well as improve mood, self-esteem and happiness.1–3 

There are so many ways to help others as part of our everyday lives. Good deeds needn’t take much time or cost any money.

Small changes can make a big difference. 

This guide gives you tips on how to bring kindness into your life. 

We will look in more detail at:  

  • Volunteering 
  • Doing something for a good cause 
  • Acts of kindness 

What are the health benefits of kindness?

Helping others feels good

Studies have found that acts of kindness are linked to increased feelings of well-being.1 Helping others can also improve our support networks and encourage us to be more active.4 This, in turn, can improve our self-esteem.5 There is some evidence to suggest that when we help others, it can promote changes in the brain that are linked with happiness.2

It creates a sense of belonging and reduces isolation

Helping others is thought to be one of the ways that people create, maintain, and strengthen their social connections. 

For example, volunteering and helping others can help us feel a sense of belonging, make new friends, and connect with our communities.5,6

Face-to-face activities such as volunteering at a food bank can also help reduce loneliness and isolation.6 

It helps to keep things in perspective

Many people don’t realise the impact a different perspective can have on their outlook on life.  

There is some evidence that being aware of our own acts of kindness, as well as the things we are grateful for, can increase feelings of happiness, optimism and satisfaction.7,8    

Doing good may help you to have a more positive outlook about your own circumstances.

It helps to make the world a happier place – one act of kindness can often lead to more!

Acts of kindness can make the world a happier place for everyone. They can boost feelings of confidence, being in control, happiness and optimism.8

They may also encourage others to repeat the good deeds they’ve experienced themselves – contributing to a more positive community.9

The more you do for others, the more you do for yourself

The benefits of helping others can last long after the act itself, for those who offer kindness, and those who benefit. This, in turn, can improve our self-esteem.5

Tips to remember before you start

Do something you enjoy

At times like this we are learning to adapt to the requirements needed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. As a result we have had to rethink the way we do our hobbies, and pursue our interests.    

You might have treated a friend to a trip to the cinema or for dinner, but today, you can watch something on a streaming service and keep in touch by phone or gift them a takeaway instead. You could even gift a subscription to an entertainment service, magazine or drop off (safely) a simple care package.  

You can share your skills, such as offering to help with technology, sharing recipes, or sewing masks or scrubs for key workers. These are all great ways to bring your skills and interests to others.

Keep others in mind

Although acts of kindness for other people can make us feel good, we need to also keep in mind why we’re doing it – which is for their benefit, not ours.   

Part of being kind is considering the feelings of others, so it is very important that your kindness is something which others will find helpful. Kindness is something that needs to benefit both parties.  

See what you can do that others are not doing already. For example, if you want to donate to a foodbank, see what they need before buying things. If you want to support key workers, check that there is a need where you are. It may be that others in your community need help more urgently.

Don’t overdo it

It’s important to make sure we don’t overdo it!     

If we find we are giving too much of ourselves or have gone beyond our means, it’s probably time to take a step back. It’s very easy to give away all of our energy, especially if we are finding things hard ourselves and want to focus on others. Leave enough for you – kindness has to start with yourself.  

We recommend starting small, so we do not become overwhelmed or give more than we are financially able.  

Helping others doesn’t have to cost money or take a lot of time. It could start with calling a friend we haven’t spoken to in a while or donating a small amount of money monthly to a charity close to our heart and within our budget.10 

Get involved with volunteering

Volunteering is a great way to help others and research shows that it benefits people of all ages, by increasing feelings of self-esteem, social connection, and well-being.5

If you have friends or neighbours who are finding things difficult at the moment, see what you can do to help. 

If you have time, especially if you are furloughed from work, you could volunteer in your community if it’s safe for you to do so.

Here are some ideas about getting involved:

  • Volunteer for a local community organisation
  • Offer your expertise and support as a mentor for those who are struggling
  • Check-in safely with a neighbour
  • See if there’s anything you can do to support your children’s school or nursery – offer to read stories for example
  • Involve your friends and neighbours in community projects
  • Offer to skill-share with a friend - you could teach guitar, dance or a new recipe
  • Call a friend that you haven’t spoken to for a while
  • Tell a family member how much you love and appreciate them
  • Offer a listening ear to someone who simply wants to talk

To find out more about volunteering opportunities, check out our suggested organisations at the end of this guide.

Do something for a good cause 

Getting involved with a cause that is close to your heart can be hugely beneficial for both the cause and your own sense of well-being.4,10

For example, if you want to help protect the environment, you could get involved in a local tree-planting scheme. You could start by identifying a few local organisations to contact about how they can use volunteers.

There are lots of other ways you can get involved:

  • Follow your chosen charity on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and join in the conversation
  • Sign-up to receive your charity’s newsletter and keep up to date with the work they’re doing
  • Plan a fundraising event in your local community or at work – you could try our Tea & Talk event, or a challenge event
  • Raise money by taking part in a fun active challenge, such as a 5k run or walk in fancy dress, or maybe a themed sports day

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have fun with it! We have lots of ways to get involved with the Mental Health Foundation.

You can [email protected] or call 020 7803 1121. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @mentalhealthfoundation and Twitter @mentalhealth.

Acts of kindness

Acts of kindness have the potential to make the world a happier place.1,7,8

We want to see a world where kindness is built into business decisions, government policy and official systems. However, we can start by individual commitment to showing kindness in our words and our actions. 

You might want to do something for someone else or take note if you experience an act of kindness.

Not sure where to start? We’ve put together some suggestions to help you out...

At home and in your community

  • Call a friend who you haven’t spoken to for a while
  • Post a card or letter to someone you've been out of touch with
  • Send flowers to a friend, out of the blue
  • Find out if a neighbour needs any help with shopping
  • Ring someone who is on their own
  • Send someone a handwritten thank you note
  • Tell your family how much you love and appreciate them
  • Help with household chores
  • Offer to help an elderly or vulnerable neighbour
  • Check on someone you know who is going through a tough time

At work

  • Remember to say "hi" to colleagues and ask how they are – whether that’s face-to-face, or virtually if you are working from home
  • Offer to support colleagues who may not be familiar with videoconferencing or new software that you have already used
  • Set up a coffee or lunch club – with your regular colleagues and with new ones
  • Have a conversation with a colleague you don’t normally talk with
  • Get to know a new member of staff – it is hard to join a new workplace
  • Lend your ear – listen to your colleague who is having a bad day
  • Say thank you to a colleague who has helped you
  • Praise a colleague for something they have done well

In public places

  • Wish a passer-by a good morning or afternoon
  • Be a considerate cyclist/driver
  • Pick up some rubbish lying around in the street
  • Smile and say hello to people you may pass every day, but have never spoken to before

On social media

  • Take time to contact people you haven’t seen for a while
  • Write something nice or encouraging on a post you appreciate
  • Acknowledge and validate someone’s story – if they are having a difficult time you don’t have to have all the answers, sometimes a like or a brief ‘I’m sorry to hear this, is there something I can do?’ is enough to make them feel heard
  • Think about what you share – look at the source of the post, and the tone. If it isn’t kind, think twice. If something could upset others and you feel you need to post it, use a trigger or content warning
  • Think about your comments and replies. Try not to say nasty things, or pile on where somebody questions another person’s actions

Evidence shows that being kind really does improve your wellbeing1

While we know that we don't do things for others for what we can get out of it, we also know that the more we do for others, the more they are likely to do for us.11

With this in mind, try to help others once a day for a week and see if it makes a difference in how we feel.

You can take joy in being deliberately kind – whether by recognising the time you have for your kids or partner, speaking more to family or volunteering in your community.

Try to keep track of:

  • any volunteering that you’ve done
  • support you’ve given to friends and family
  • any random acts of kindness that you’ve carried out
  • what others have done for you.

Remember to make a note of how they made you feel. You could even keep a diary! Write down three things you are grateful for each day, or simply say these to yourself as the day draws to a close.

It’s important to be kind to yourself as well

Whatever you can manage today is good enough. Some people feel that the lockdown is giving them the time and chance to learn new skills or try new things. That may be you, and if so, enjoy and celebrate that.

If this isn’t you, don't beat yourself up about it. If things are hard for you right now, try and find some small things to celebrate each day. Getting up and washing your hair can be just as much of an achievement as someone else posting about a 5k run on Instagram.

Try to tune out the voice of judgement and comparison and tune in to the voice that says you are enough.

Be kind to yourself

  • Prioritise some 'me' time, so you can relax and think about how you’re feeling and how your day or week has been so far
  • Tune out of  your social media channels for a day, or even a week
  • Treat yourself to something. It doesn't have to be a big thing. Remember, good things come in small packages
  • Do something you enjoy, like listening to a favourite song or dancing in your kitchen
  • Spend some time with nature. It's great for our mental health

Further information

Mental Health Foundation - Our vision is of good mental health for all. The Mental Health Foundation works to prevent mental health problems. We will drive change towards a mentally healthy society for all, and support communities, families and individuals to lead mentally healthy lives with a particular focus on those at greatest risk. The Foundation is the home of Mental Health Awareness Week.

Action for Happiness - Action for Happiness is a movement of people committed to building a happier society. They also run the International Day of Happiness.

Do-it - Volunteering made easy. Quickly find ways to help in your community by searching their online database of volunteering opportunities in your area. - For general guidance about how to get involved in your community.

International Voluntary Service - Links volunteers with charities and other organisations that could benefit from their time, skills and experience.

Kindness UK - Promoting, sharing and uniting kindness. Take part in the first-ever nationwide kindness survey.

Samaritans - Volunteers are at the heart of Samaritans’ 201 branches across the UK, delivering core services, running branches, fundraising and raising awareness of what they do.

Volunteer Development Scotland - Scotland’s Centre for Excellence in volunteering, VDS, leads the way in informing and modernising approaches to improve the quality of the volunteering experience for the people of Scotland.

Volunteering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Volunteering - committed to supporting, enabling and celebrating volunteering in all its diversity. Their work links policy, research, innovation, good practice and programme management in the involvement of volunteers.

VSO - Put your skills, energy and personal qualities to work helping people break out of poverty.

The Wildlife and Wetlands Trust - The WWT is an international wildfowl and wetlands conversation charity in the UK.

WWF - The WWF is an international non-governmental organisation founded in 1961, working in the fields of wilderness protection, and the reduction of human impact on the environment.

1 Curry OS, Rowland LA, Van Lissa CJ, Zlotowitz S, McAlaney J, Whitehouse H. Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. J Exp Soc Psychol. 2018;76:320–9.

2 Post S. It’s Good To Be Good: 2014 Biennial Scientific Report on Health, Happiness, Longevity, and Helping Others. Int J Pers Cent Med. 2014;2:1–53.

3 Jenkinson CE, Dickens AP, Jones K, Thompson-Coon J, Taylor RS, Rogers M, et al. Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health. 2013;13(1).

4 Pillemer K, Fuller-Rowell TE, Reid MC, Wells NM. Environmental volunteering and health outcomes over a 20-year period. Gerontologist. 2010;50(5):594–602.

5 Brown KM, Hoye R, Nicholson M. Self-Esteem, Self-Efficacy, and Social Connectedness as Mediators of the Relationship Between Volunteering and Well-Being. J Soc Serv Res. 2012;38(4):468–83.

6 Pilkington PD, Windsor TD, Crisp DA. Volunteering and subjective well-being in midlife and older adults: The role of supportive social networks. Journals Gerontol – Ser B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2012;67 B(2):249–60.

7 Otake K, Shimai S, Tanaka-Matsumi J, Otsui K, Fredrickson BL. Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention. J Happiness Stud. 2006;7(3): 361–75.

8 Kerr SL, O’Donovan A, Pepping CA. Can Gratitude and Kindness Interventions Enhance Well-Being in a Clinical Sample? J Happiness Stud. 2014;16(1):17–36.

9 Pressman SD, Kraft TL, Cross MP. It’s good to do good and receive good: The impact of a ‘pay it forward’ style kindness intervention on giver and receiver well-being. J Posit Psychol. 2015;10(4):293–302.

10 Choi NG, Kim J. The effect of time volunteering and charitable donations in later life on psychological well-being. Ageing Soc. 2011;31(4):590–610.

11 Fehr E, Fischbacher U. The nature of human altruism. Nature. 2003;425(6960):785–91. 

Kindness and mental health

We found that 63% of UK adults agree that when other people are kind it has a positive effect on their mental health, and the same proportion agree that being kind to others has a positive effect on their mental health.
Find out more about kindness and mental health
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