By Nicki Isaacs
BA(Hons) MPsych MAPS, Psychologist
There are many reasons people act in kind ways. Motivations for kindness are numerous and varied. Some examples are listed below:
• Genuine care for another person. This is a topic of philosophical debate as some believe people are genuinely altruistic and others believe kindness is motivated by self benefit. Let’s assume that many people out there are genuinely caring about others.
• Being kind, considerate and thoughtful to others makes people feel good.
• Research suggests that being kind to others can give you a “helpers high”. To be truly happy we need to help others and perform acts of kindness. Feeling this way can be a great motivator to act kindly. See our article on the role of kindness in happiness .
• Fulfils a life purpose. For example, some people have always wanted to have children so being kind to their child fulfils this life ambition. Others helping their elderly parents may enjoy a sense of fulfilment.
• For some people, being kind makes them feel as though they are a “better person”. This can be very helpful for self esteem.
• At times when people have low self esteem, kindness can actually help improve their negative feelings about themselves. For example, if they are being kind they can focus on their good deeds rather than feeling down on themselves about qualities with which they are ashamed or unhappy. For example, if they are argumentative with family, jealous of others, selfish etc.
• Many people believe in karma and / or reincarnation. So they act in a kindly way to maximise the chances of enjoying good fortune in their current and / or subsequent lives.
• Many people have been brought up to be kind. Such principles have been ingrained since childhood so it becomes a well established behaviour.
• Society regards kindness well. Awards are often given to people who have been kind and charitable to the community. People may be influenced by this general social regard for kindness.
• Kindness is also revered on a more personal level so some people act kindly so they are praised by others around them.
• Many people are kind because of their religious beliefs. Various religions encourage kindness, respect and good deeds towards others. Kindness is fundamental to many religions and consequently this is a significant motivation for kindness for many people.
• At times, people perform kind acts to distract themselves from difficulties that may be occurring in their lives.
• Kind acts may also serve a purpose for people who are experiencing negative feelings such as guilt. They may feel guilt or shame in relation to something that has occurred. They may be able to justify or rationalise some of their actions by performing kind deeds.
• It is argued by many that kindness is truly innate. So, some are kind because that is part of their make up. Again, some of this is subject to philosophical debate. For example, nurturing one’s infant or self sacrifice by a lion for its cub could be perceived as genuinely kind. Alternatively, the motivation could be for perpetuation of the species and hence not a consequence of kindness. Whichever the more accurate explanation, the outcome is kindness and we can accept that a level of positive feeling is present in these situations.
• Recent studies have been investigating whether people are prosocial or not. Whether brains are “wired” for kindness or whether it is a learned behaviour. The role of genetics has been explored. Evidence suggests that certain people have different brain mechanisms working when they engage in altruistic behaviours, suggesting a physiological component to kindness. More research is being conducted into this interesting area.
Clearly, many motivations for kindness exist. The above examples are just some of the reasons that cause people to act kindly toward themselves, one another and their surroundings. Whether the motivations are positive or not, the outcomes are usually beneficial for many, so let’s enjoy receiving and giving kindness.