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Is kindness a character strength?

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the study of character strengths and virtues. Researchers have identified 24 character strengths that are viewed as universal and morally valued. Kindness is consistently ranked as one of the most desirable strengths. But what exactly is kindness and why is it so important? Here we will explore what research says about the benefits of kindness and whether it should be considered a core character strength.

What is Kindness?

Kindness can be defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. A kind person shows concern for others and goes out of their way to help people in need. Kind acts can be big or small – from giving your seat up on the bus to someone who is pregnant, to volunteering at a homeless shelter. Kindness is an interpersonal strength that involves empathy, compassion, and unselfishness.

Researchers distinguish between two types of kindness:

  • Everyday kindness – spontaneous acts of thoughtfulness in day-to-day life.
  • Extreme kindness – going above and beyond to help someone in serious need.

Both forms of kindness have value. Small acts of consideration help build bonds and strengthen communities. But going out of your way to assist someone facing real hardship can profoundly impact them.

The Benefits of Being Kind

Multiple studies reveal that kindness has many physical, psychological, and social benefits:

Physical Benefits

  • Boosts the immune system
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces feelings of pain
  • May help you live longer

Engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller. It also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This leads to lower blood pressure and inflammatory responses.

Psychological Benefits

  • Increases happiness
  • Reduces anxiety and depression
  • Improves self-esteem
  • Helps develop greater life satisfaction

Multiple studies have shown that performing acts of kindness activates reward centers in the brain. This leads to the release of feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin. In turn, this boosts mood and creates greater life satisfaction.

Social Benefits

  • Increases a sense of connection to others
  • Helps build new relationships
  • Improves existing relationships
  • Creates chains of kindness

Kindness helps forge social bonds and reinforce cooperative relationships. When we are kind to others, they are more likely to be kind in return, creating positive ripple effects. Kindness can also inspire and motivate observers to engage in kind acts themselves.

Is Kindness Linked to Success?

In addition to physical and psychological benefits, researchers have found that kindness is linked to greater success in work and relationships. Kind people tend to have the following advantages:

  • Better relationships – Being kind fosters deeper connections and satisfaction in relationships with friends, romantic partners, and family.
  • Improved wellbeing – Kind people experience greater life satisfaction, happiness, and self-esteem.
  • Increased peer acceptance – Kind youth are better liked by their peers across childhood and adolescence.
  • Better school achievement – Students who engage in kind acts have higher grades and test scores.
  • Greater career success – Employees described as kind tend to have higher performance ratings and faster promotions.
  • Longer life – Multiple studies link kindness to increased longevity.

Overall, research indicates that kindness tends to beget more kindness – amplifying the benefits in a self-reinforcing upward spiral that contributes to success.

Is There a “Kindness Instinct”?

Some have proposed that humans may have evolved an innate “kindness instinct” selected for its prosocial benefits. We appear to have an intrinsic capacity for compassion, cooperation, and helping behaviors that emerge early in life.

For example, toddlers often spontaneously help adults and show empathy for others in distress. This suggests kindness comes naturally, without need for extensive reinforcement. Of course, culture and experience shape how kindness is expressed – but the raw material is there from the start.

However, others argue human prosociality is more complex. Kindness may stem from a confluence of innate and learned factors. More research is needed to fully understand the roots of human kindness.

Is Kindness a Universal Strength?

Kindness is valued across cultures. Every major religious and moral tradition emphasizes the importance of compassion and charity. When researchers analyzed strengths mentioned across cultural and religious texts, kindness emerged as one of only six consistently recognized virtues.

Studies find that people value kindness in themselves and others worldwide. For example, surveys of 10 million people across 52 nations found that being caring and generous to others were universally endorsed values.

This suggests kindness is a human universal, not simply a cultural invention. At its core, kindness reflects recognition of our shared humanity.

Should Kindness Be Cultivated?

Given the wide-ranging benefits of kindness, experts argue that it is a strength that should be deliberately cultivated.

Research shows that with practice, we can increase our everyday kindness. For example, performing five acts of kindness in a single day has been found to provide a lasting boost in well-being. Kindness interventions encourage people to engage in regular kind acts and track their impact. Such programs have been shown to improve outcomes among healthcare workers, students, and married couples.

On an organizational level, companies that promote cultures of compassion reap benefits in teamwork, retention, and performance. For example, Google has run workshops aimed at boosting employee kindness and mindfulness. The simple practice of encouraging workers to be more thoughtful proved so successful it has been adopted across the company.

Overall, studies indicate that kindness is not a fixed trait – it is something we can nurture through our intentions and actions. Choosing to be kind has the power to transform our own lives as well as benefit those around us.

Is There Such a Thing as Being Too Kind?

Despite its benefits, some raise concerns that an emphasis on constant kindness could be unhealthy. They argue a compulsion towards endless kindness and compassion could lead to:

  • Burnout – Constantly helping others while neglecting self-care.
  • Resentment – Suppressing one’s own needs breeds covert bitterness and anger.
  • Being taken advantage of – Kind people can be manipulated by those seeking to exploit them.

However, researchers have found these concerns do not play out. Genuinely kind people have healthy psychological boundaries. They are compassionate but also assertive about their needs. Their kindness stems from a place of inner security, not codependency.

The trick seems to be finding a balance between being kind-hearted and minding one’s own welfare. Within reason, erring on the side of kindness appears to have more benefits than costs for both self and others.


In summary, extensive research confirms that kindness consistently provides physical, psychological, and social benefits. It is a human strength manifested worldwide and celebrated across cultures. Studies show we can cultivate greater kindness through intention and practice.

While too much of any good thing can backfire, kindness delivers far more positive effects than negatives overall. When expressed with healthy boundaries, it improves lives without leading to burnout or exploitation. For both individuals and societies, choosing kindness helps create happier and more successful outcomes.

So in considering the research, kindness does appear to be a foundational character strength worthy of cultivation. It is part of our shared humanity and reflecting on its benefits can inspire us to new heights of human potential.