by Suzee Connole

Kindness—it’s a theme that is continually reinforced at different stages of our lives. As children, we learn the Golden Rule; Do to others what you want them to do to you. As adults, we are taught the benefits of practicing random acts of kindness. Ellen DeGeneres closes out every episode of her talk show by saying, “Be kind to one another.”

With all this emphasis on promoting and applying kindness, are we forgetting to be kind to ourselves because we are so focused on others? Or is it really the same thing?

A Pew Research Center analysis found that 19 percent of Americans live in a multigenerational home. In this family dynamic, there is typically the oldest generation (grand- or great-grandparent), the second generation (parent/adult children), and the youngest generation (children/grandchildren). The decision-making usually falls on the second generation. Their choices benefit both the elders and the minors in the household.

While my family’s multiple generations don’t live under the same roof, the major players live within two minutes of each other. My Nana is the matriarch. At 82 years old, Nana has paid her dues. She has raised three children, enjoyed nine grandchildren, and is living her best life with weekly water aerobics classes and winter trips to Florida. She has also had her fair share of ailments that come with living a life that spans eight decades.

That’s where my mother comes in. She lives just over a mile away from my grandmother, and she seamlessly intertwines her roles of daughter and caregiver for Nana with her roles as mother and point person for my father, siblings, extended family, and friends.

My mother will tell you she is kind to herself. She doesn’t have self-destructive habits. She has a love for knitting, examples of which are scattered around her house, and she will talk your ear off if you’re within 15 feet of her. That aside, I’ve never honestly seen her go out of her way to treat herself to the same degree, or better, than how she treats others. So is she losing self-kindness along the way—or support it without consciously trying?

A recent study from the University of Zurich shows that the reward system in the female brain lights up when women act generously towards others. This information, especially in relation to my mom, does not surprise me. (Interestingly, the study also found that the male brain reward center activates with more selfish acts.)

I come from a generation that observes kindness through filtered captures on social media. Kindness is flaunted for “likes” and “shares,” while my mother quietly performs generous acts regularly without seeking attention.

Is my mother onto something? Are her acts of kindness towards others what give her the most happiness? What I’ve grown to see as her routine, especially in regard to Nana, is actually what triggers joy in her daily regimen. The younger generation can take a page from our parents’ books and realize that being kind to ourselves can also encompass being kind to others. Kindness does not have to be a grandiose gesture of self-appreciation. It can consist of small, quiet, mundane actions that add up to something meaningful—for others and for ourselves.

Suzee Connole is the Marketing Assistant for Wholebeing Institute. Part of her role at WBI involves highlighting how alumni, faculty, and guest speakers are taking positive psychology principles and applying them in the communities where they live and work.