Author Caroline Millington shares how showing ourselves a bit of extra care and compassion can make a big difference to the world around us
Let’s start with my definition of kindfulness. I’ve merged two of my favourite words: mindfulness and kindness. For me, it is about being conscious, aware and accepting of one’s feelings while demonstrating kindness and consideration towards oneself. The quality of being mindfully kind towards oneself and generous with self-compassion.
Buddhist monk and author Ajahn Brahm described kindfulness as a practice ‘that strengthens our ability to look after ourselves – looking after our own minds… to become a kindful force for good in the world.’ After reading this piece I hope you’ll feel empowered to make the conscious decision to put your own happiness front and centre in your life. You are responsible for your own happiness and you deserve to be happy and to be loved.
Learning to love yourself
Talking about yourself feels very selfindulgent. It seems so un-British to pick apart your life when, the reality is, you’ve got a great one. I didn’t think I was depressed or experiencing anxiety at the time that I started to embrace kindfulness, but I knew that I was in danger of slipping back in that direction. And I could – and should – be happier. I was keen to get to the root of why I felt so frustrated. Therapy allowed me to unravel the tapestry of my life to see that I wasn’t making myself a priority; I hadn’t been setting personal boundaries; I didn’t give myself enough space to grow into the person I wanted to be; and I allowed others to project their issues onto me, absorbing them like an overused bath sponge. I just wasn’t kind enough to myself.
Armed with this revelation, I’ve spent the past couple of years learning to be kinder to myself. I’m so much happier for it and it’s had a positive impact on all my relationships, too. Kindfulness is not about treading on others to make sure your needs are met first. It’s about understanding that it’s OK – in fact, absolutely essential – to recognise your own needs and to be vocal about them. It’s not about being self-centred but recognising and acknowledging the negative thoughts you have about yourself and reframing them to be more positive.
Kindfulness became like a special savings account to me – every week I invested time in it, deposited a hefty amount of selfcompassion and watched my self-esteem and confidence grow. The more love I invested in myself, the more I had to tap into when I needed it.
Your happiness should be your number one priority in life – it’s contagious, and if you make yourself happier, you’ll be motivated to ensure your loved ones are happy too.
Antidote to crisis
While your own happiness is key, there is a huge movement to bring more kindness into society at large. When the news is screaming scandal, global political crisis and violence, there’s never been a more important time to show kindness towards others. And being kind has health benefits for you too. A study at Sewanee: The University of the South, Tennessee, found that those who performed random acts of kindness were more likely to report feeling happy or having their mood boosted than participants who were just kind to themselves.
We already have an annual worldwide Random Acts of Kindness Week, but what about the rest of the year? Kindness is on the up. In 2018, research by Travelodge found 29% of those asked believe that performing a random act of kindness towards a stranger is good karma. The survey also found that a third of adults say a gesture of goodwill from a stranger makes them want to go out and help others. And it doesn’t have to be a big favour, either: 75% of those asked believe it’s the smallest act of kindness from a stranger that means the most. Make it your mission to spread kindness. Pay it forward. Do a favour without expectation and I find it’s paid back three-fold at some point.