THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Susan Smalley, Ph.D. Headshot

Kindness Is the Key To Health And Happiness

Posted: Updated:

It is clear that truth and justice are driving principals of our lives, but what about kindness? I was recently on the X Prize Advisory Committee to design a prize in health. I shared my view that 'kindness' is likely the most important facet of health and happiness to a highly distinguished group of health scientists. Later, I heard from one of those scientists told me that my opinion sounded "really odd."

I've studied genetics and human behavior for over 20 years. At one time I thought genetics held all the answers to make the world a better place by enabling us to 'fix' our genetic mutations and reduce disease and suffering. Now I see that genetics is extremely important, but for another reason: Genetics may be the best tool to provide a rationale for including kindness as a guiding principle to govern our day-to-day behaviors as well as government and institutes in general. Clearly, the thesis that we are 'all created equal' is evident in our genomes; we differ so minutely from one another. If we recognize fully that we are truly a single human family, taking it to the extreme, one could view the whole human species as a single human 'organism' based on our shared DNA. Through our shared genomes, we can see that to reduce suffering, to remove harm toward any of our members, is equivalent to removing harm toward ourselves.

When this dependent nature is brought into our global consciousness, kindness among members of our global family will be selected over behaviors that harm another. When kindness is a guiding principal, hurting another - whether human, animal, or the earth, will not be easy. When kindness is taught as equal to truth and justice, in our school systems, our homes, and when it perpetuates our social and governmental systems, the world will likely be a kinder place.

What is kindness, the quality of being kind? "Kind" according to Webster's means:

1. A fundamental nature or quality,
2) loving qualities or a helpful nature

Humankind, our species, has the capacity to see kindness as a fundamental quality that we chose to nourish, that we chose to make as the quality that defines us.

We can chose to act according to its principles, even if we do not 'feel' loving at times. We have reason by which to overcome our emotions, we can use reason guided by the principles of kindness, to act, make decisions, and treat one another, ourselves, and the planet.

Kindness can be a guiding principal if we all realize that we each have the capacity for good and evil. We each have the capacity to make poor choices, to harm another, to allow that harm to escalate into evil. Most of us catch it when very small and correct it or adjust it to move along a different route. Kindness can guide us when we recognize our shared capacity for both good and evil, and we chose accordingly. My colleague calls this 'compassionate decision-making', decision-making governed by the principal of kindness, acting to help others, to alleviate suffering.

What would the world be like if it were one where kindness was its guiding principle? War would not be an answer to anything, period. We would protect the planet, animals on it, and each other at all costs. Genocide would not happen. Competition would be part of 'game-playing', where the rules of the game are to keep everyone in and keep the game going, 'winners and losers' would be more like as in a checkers match, for fun.

If kindness were a guiding principle, we would likely be a happier nation. Science reveals that compassion (toward self and others) is a key tool for happiness. Compassion is strengthened when individuals recognize their similarities, learn to connect with their own kindness or loving qualities, and learn how to be present, regardless of the intensity of a situation (good or bad). Perhaps shifting our attention to the role of Kindness in our everyday actions and elevating it to a guiding principal in our lives and work, is a start to bringing it to positions of leadership.

So kindness is an antidote to pain and suffering, and needs our increased attention. I think the best X Prize we could design would be one to increase kindness. A competition, a game, where everyone wins.

From Our Partners