Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Character strengths: Kindness

Last week, we were introduced to the character strength grit, the perseverance and passion toward long-term goals. Today, we will learn more about a completely different virtue: kindness.

Kindness is marked by tenderness and concern for oneself and for others. It is regarded as a virtue for example in Buddhist cultures. In Western countries, the concept used to be less well-known and practiced. We were more focused on self-esteem than on self-kindness. However, Kristin Neff from the University of Texas in Austin found that self-esteem can be detrimental to one’s well-being because it involves the need to feel superior to others in order to feel okay about oneself and because it is associated to a steady rise in narcissism over the last 45 years. She suggests cultivating self-kindness instead of self-esteem. In a video, she explains what self-kindness is, what effects it has and how it can be cultivated.




On Positive Psychology News Daily, Steve Safigan gives an overview of her findings.

In an article in the journal Social and Personality Psychology Compass, Dr. Neff explains “that self-compassion provides greater emotional resilience and stability than self-esteem, but involves less self-evaluation, ego-defensiveness, and self-enhancement than self-esteem”. Self-compassion is defined as noticing suffering, being kind and caring in response to that suffering and remembering that imperfection is part of the human experience we all share. Whereas research seems to show that self-esteem is rather the outcome than the cause of doing well, self-compassion is associated to greater life satisfaction, personal initiative, and emotional resilience and to less depression, fear of failure, and perfectionism.

If self-kindness and self-compassion are so beneficial for our well-being, what can we do in order to become more self-compassionate? Mindfulness seems to be a key component of self-compassion. Therefore, one way is to participate in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme. Meditation in general is a good way of improving one’s mindfulness and thus one’s self-kindness. There are many ways of learning how to meditate: courses, online trainings, books, CDs, and DVDs. Practicing regularly will improve self-kindness and thus well-being and happiness, even when times are tough.

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