Being kind isn’t always easy, particularly if you feel down, frustrated, or cynical about people in general. But kindness is worth the effort. Research shows that being kind to yourself and other people can improve your mental health and make you more satisfied with your relationships.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to become a nicer, kinder person. If you tend to be grumpy or aloof, kindness may feel forced or fake at first. But you don’t have to put on an act forever; it’s possible to learn genuine kindness and still be “you.”
Self-kindness and self-compassion can make it easier to be kind to others. For example, people who show themselves compassion are more likely to have better relationships and be more caring and supportive of their partners.
To be kinder to yourself:
- Be kind to your body by taking care of your physical health. Eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, and try to sleep for 7-8 hours each night.
- Acknowledge your feelings. Even if you think your emotions are irrational, try to accept them. Trying to suppress your feelings can make them stronger.
- Challenge your negative self-talk. Instead of criticizing yourself, try to speak to yourself as though you were a friend.
- Try to let go of past mistakes instead of ruminating. If possible, reframe mistakes as learning opportunities that will help you do better in the future.
- Follow your interests and do things that make you happy. It’s not selfish to schedule time to have fun and relax.
- Give yourself praise when you do something well. Appreciate your skills and achievements.
- Don’t let yourself be treated like a doormat. You can be a kind and loving person while setting firm limits and boundaries. If you have problems standing up for yourself, our article on what to do if you’re being treated like a doormat may help.
- Get help for medical problems, including mental health issues, as soon as possible. For example, seeing a doctor or scheduling a therapy appointment is essential self-care.
Empathetic individuals are more likely to behave kindly towards others. Learning how to see a situation from someone else’s point of view could make it easier to be kind.
To improve your empathy:
- Get curious about other people. If you take time to learn about another person’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings, it can be easier to understand their point of view, empathize with them, and treat them with kindness.
- Learn about other cultures. For example, watch documentaries or read articles by people with lives very different from your own, go to interfaith events, or see an exhibition about another culture.
- Read fiction. Research shows that reading novels can improve your ability to empathize with other people.
- Practice active listening. Listening to people can help you understand their point of view, which in turn can help you feel empathy toward them. Use verbal prompts such as “uh-huh” or “Oh, really?” to encourage someone to keep talking. When the other person has finished making a point, summarize it in your own words to show that you have been paying attention. This guide to active listening has more tips.
Kind people do not make a habit of pointing out everyone else’s flaws. Neither do they offer unnecessary criticism. Instead, they enjoy supporting those around them.
Here are some ways to lift people up rather than pulling them down:
- When someone tells you they are working on a goal or project that is important to them, show positive interest and offer them encouragement. You can do this by asking questions such as, “That sounds cool, how’s it going so far?” or “Wow, how exciting! What made you decide to do X?”
- Offer practical or emotional support if possible, but do not assume that you know what is best for another person. Ask, “Can I help?” or “Is there anything I can do?” instead of telling them how you intend to help.
- Giving advice can be helpful, but try not to tell someone what you think they should do unless they ask for your input. Unwanted advice can come across as patronizing.
- Validate other peoples’ emotions. Even if you think their reactions are strange or overdramatic, do not say or imply that their feelings are “wrong.” Instead, use short validating phrases such as, “That sounds very hard for you” or “I can see why that would make you anxious!”
- Support others when they have to make difficult decisions. Encourage them to come up with their own solutions and weigh the pros and cons. For example, you could ask them whether they’ve been in a similar situation before and, if so, what worked last time.
- If you know someone well, offer them a hug when they are upset, or hold their hand if they are in a lot of distress.
Kind people try not to judge or criticize others. They are willing to give people the benefit of the doubt if possible, and they know that everyone has equal worth.
To be less judgmental:
- Try to think of alternative explanations for someone’s annoying behavior. For example, although it’s possible that your friend didn’t reply to your text because they don’t value your friendship, it’s also possible that they are just busy.
- Ask yourself why you judge people. This can help you tackle the underlying cause. For example, if it’s because you feel bad and judging other people makes you feel better, it might be a good idea to work on improving your self-esteem.
- When you want to judge someone, try to find a quality you can appreciate or praise instead. For example, you could say to yourself, “OK, I think Sally is too talkative. But she is friendly and will happily talk to anyone.”
- Focus on kindness in other people. It can be easier to show acceptance and kindness to others if you make an effort to see the kindness in them. Even people who often seem grumpy or angry might do nice things occasionally.
Making an effort to be positive and welcoming, rather than negative and aloof, is a form of kindness. Emotions are contagious, so if you are upbeat and friendly, you could bring some happiness to the people around you.
Here are a few tips:
- Smile more often. You don’t have to grin all the time, but try to get into the habit of smiling at people when you greet them.
- Use friendly body language. For example, try not to fold your arms or tap your feet impatiently.
- Make eye contact
- Let your sense of humor show. You don’t need to tell lots of jokes or laugh all of the time. Making a few witty observations or lighthearted remarks is enough.
Our guide on how to be more approachable and look more friendly has more advice on this topic.
Kind people usually enjoy complimenting other people. Research shows that we underestimate the positive effects of compliments. They only take a couple of seconds but can bring a lot of joy to people.
Only give a compliment if you mean it. Otherwise you may come across as insincere. It’s usually best to compliment someone’s achievements, skills, taste, or effort; commenting on their looks can come across as creepy.
It’s OK to compliment someone on an accessory or piece of clothing that they’ve chosen because you are complimenting their taste rather than their appearance.
Here are a few examples:
- “This room looks great. You’ve got such a good eye for color!”
- “Your speech was so funny. You made a boring topic really interesting.”
- “I love your shoes. Where did you get them?”
Truly kind people do not “act nice” or do kind things just to get what they want or impress other people. They are kind because it’s the right thing to do. They know that acts of kindness often make life better for both the giver and the receiver.
Try to cultivate a “giving mindset.” Focus on what you can do for others rather than what they can do for you. If you aren’t sure whether you are acting from a place of kindness, ask yourself:
- Am I expecting to get something back from this person? If the answer is “yes,” you are not showing them true kindness; you are only being nice for personal gain.
- Am I secretly hoping that someone else will notice and appreciate my kindness? If so, you are performing kindness rather than acting from a place of love or a desire to make someone’s life easier.
To change your mindset, it can help to try thinking of yourself as a genuinely kind, humble person who treats others well. Challenge yourself to perform at least one act of kindness every day. With time, kindness will probably start to feel more natural, and your “kindness muscle” will get stronger.
Kind people are willing to be kind to everyone unless they have a good reason to behave otherwise. As far as possible, practice unconditional kindness. This means being kind to people who you dislike or don’t know very well, including complete strangers.
Be aware of your power; don’t treat people badly just because they are in a junior or subordinate position to you. Take extra care to be kind to servers, interns, and anyone who works for you. Be polite and well-mannered. For example, hold doors for people, and say “please” and “thank you”.
When we feel frustrated, it’s easy to say and do unkind things we don’t really mean. Try to be mindful of your feelings and urges to lash out at other people.
It can help to pay attention to what happens in your body when you start feeling angry or frustrated. For example, you may notice that you feel warmer than usual or that your hands are clenched into fists.
When you notice these signs, you can use one or more of these strategies to calm down:
- Take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Take a break for a couple of minutes. It’s OK to say, “I’m going outside for a breather. I’ll be back in a minute.”
- Slowly count to five before you speak.
Experts have found that meditation can improve your empathy and make it more likely you’ll treat others with care and respect.
Research shows that a type of meditation known as loving-kindness meditation (LKM) can help you become more compassionate towards yourself and others. LKM involves sending good wishes and loving feelings towards other people while sitting in a quiet, contemplative state. Try a free guided LKM meditation from the Greater Good Science Center.
Studies show that feelings of gratitude are linked to more generous, trusting, and helpful behavior. This means that if you cultivate gratitude and are thankful for the good things in your life, it may be easier to be kind.
Some people find it helpful to keep a gratitude diary. At the end of each day, note down a few things that have gone well or things you are grateful for. This could be something as small as a good cup of coffee or a shared joke with your spouse.
Don’t forget to say “thank you” when someone helps you out. It’s not only polite, but it also encourages more kindness. According to one study, when helpers are thanked, they feel valued and are more likely to carry on helping than those who don’t feel appreciated.
Be sure to thank the people you might take for granted. For example, if you’re in a relationship, don’t get complacent; tell your partner that you appreciate them.
Try to use your “kindness muscle” and be kind every day. Let yourself feel good about treating other people well.
Here are some ways you can show kindness at work, at home, or in everyday life:
- Give food or flowers to an elderly neighbor
- Send a friend a funny video or meme if they are feeling low
- Donate furniture, clothes, and other items you no longer need to charity or give them to someone who will appreciate them
- Give away your favorite book by leaving it in a public place or putting it in the break room at work for others to enjoy
- Donate to a charity or disaster fund
- Grow your hair and donate it to a charity such as Wigs For Kids or Hair We Share
- Give up a parking space
- Volunteer, for example, at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. If you are in school or college, find volunteer groups where you can help out and meet other likeminded students
- Offer to help a coworker if they are overwhelmed at work
- Try to stop complaining for a day or even a week; this is an act of kindness because your family, friends, and coworkers will appreciate your positive attitude
- Be kind to the earth by recycling, picking up litter, or planting a tree or bush in your neighborhood
- Offer your place in a queue, for example, at the grocery store
- Give money or food to someone on the street, or leave some money where someone in need might find it
- Offer to pay for someone’s order at the coffee shop
- Give up your seat on a bus or train
- Go out of your way to be kind to people in need, such as a parent who needs help getting a buggy through a narrow doorway, or someone with a disability that makes it hard for them to reach an item on a grocery store shelf
- Be kind to animals and the natural world. For example, try to trap bugs and release them outside instead of killing them or making sure that the eggs you buy are free-range rather than from battery hens.
Self-kindness is good for your health. For example, it can help you deal with stress, lower your risk of anxiety, reduce your risk of depression, make you happier, and improve your general life satisfaction. Self-compassion is linked to healthy habits, such as eating a balanced diet.
Kind people are generous, considerate, affectionate, and friendly, even towards people they don’t like or don’t know. They are willing to lend a hand to those in need with no expectation of repayment. Kind people are usually patient and give others the benefit of the doubt.
The best way to be kind is to show kindness without expecting anything in return. It’s up to you how to show kindness. You don’t need to expend a lot of time or effort. For example, just smiling at someone or doing them a small favor can improve their day.
When someone is kind to you, show your appreciation. For example, you could say, “Thank you, that was so nice of you,” or “I really appreciate your help, thanks.” When someone compliments you, don’t brush it off. Simply say, “Thank you!” or “That’s kind of you to say.”
You may take your bad moods and frustrations out on the ones you love because you think they won’t challenge your behavior, or you might be unkind as a way of self-sabotaging a relationship. For example, if you are afraid of intimacy, you may use unkind behavior to push someone away.
Stress, lack of sleep, anxiety, hormone imbalances, and some mental health problems such as depression can cause a person to be irritable or short-tempered. Some people are mean because they have low self-esteem. Treating others badly is a defense mechanism that gives them a sense of control.
If you’ve noticed that other people tend to minimize the amount of time they spend with you, it may be because they think you are not nice. Another clue is your attitude. If you are judgmental and impatient, your unkind attitude may show in your words and actions.