Louise Arseneault is a Professor of Developmental Psychology at King’s College London and the Mental Health Leadership Fellow for the Economic and Social Research Council. Her research focuses on the impact of social relationships on mental health across the life span, including loneliness and social support. We asked her why kindness matters to mental health.
I am so fortunate to have experienced several acts of kindness during the lockdown. I have an army of friends who go out of their way in making sure I am fine during the period. I live by myself and I don’t have access to a private garden so this period has been quite interesting for me. Some people called me, some people posted me books and their children’s drawings, and some people drove to me to go for walks. I am very lucky to have such wonderful friends! But I noticed during the lockdown that even little gestures from strangers count. I remember feeling so much more optimistic when someone random just smiled at me during a walk on an especially difficult day.
I try to live my life by the American literary figure Henry James’ expression “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind”. It is not always easy but I think being kind should not be something special during one week. I hope we will have experienced kindness during the lockdown so we all become kinder after that.
Kindness definitely matters to mental health. And that is for EVERYBODY, poor or rich, women or men, Europeans or Africans, young or old. Kindness may not be a vaccine or a cure for diseases but I suspect it immensely contributes to wellbeing by making people’s life easier and more beautiful. If we were all kinder to each other, I suspect we would ALL feel better for it.