UCLA just dedicated $20 million to the study of kindness—here’s what researchers want you to know


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Photo: Getty Images/Olive Rossi

If you had $20 million to study anything, what would you choose? This weekend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) directed the very generous sum—a gift from philanthropists Jennifer and Matthew Harris—to open The Bedari Kindness Institute, the first research center in the world to focus solely on the power of good will. The Institute expects to dive deep into the effects and applications of kindness in society, but Harris says that in his experience, kindness starts with the self.

“Whether it’s being judgmental, holding yourself to a higher standard or insisting on perfection—all the ways I lived my life—it became my experience that if you’re not kind and compassionate to yourself, it’s hard to do the same for others,” Harris told the Washington Post. “I simply didn’t want to live my life like that anymore.”

In a press release, UCLA announced an interdisciplinary approach to the study of kindness that looks at evolutionary, psychological, economic, sociological, and other factors that facilitate kind actions toward others. Without a doubt, the root of compassion (the self) will be considered in a holistic view at the mechanisms of kindness.

Multiple studies have already confirmed the life-changing magic of uttering a few kind words to the person you see in the mirror. Research conducted by the universities of Exeter and Oxford in early 2019 found that the very simple step of thinking kind thoughts about yourself can lower your heart rate and increase levels of self-compassion. Self-oriented kindness has also been linked to higher levels of emotional intelligence—the superpower for empathizing with those around you.

“In the midst of current world politics, violence and strife, the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute seeks to be an antidote,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the UCLA division of social sciences. “Rooted in serious academic work, the institute will partner and share its research on kindness broadly in accessible formats. The Bedari Foundation’s extraordinary gift is truly visionary and we are grateful for its support and leadership.” No doubt the promise of a kinder future for ourselves and others is certainly worthy of rigorous research.

If your emails drip with performative kindness, here’s how to stop. Plus, how an optimism expert turns a corner on a bad day

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