It was freezing cold the day Neil Laybourn saw a man in a T-shirt sitting on a high ledge on Waterloo Bridge and made a split-second decision that would change both their lives for ever. “It’s hard to pin down what it was that made me stop… but it would have played on my mind if I hadn’t,” he said. “That’s not how you live your life is it? You don’t just walk past when you see someone in need.”
On that January morning in London’s rush hour, hundreds of other people were doing exactly that. But Laybourn didn’t and – it turned out the man, Jonny Benjamin, was contemplating suicide. Six years later he would launch a campaign to find and thank Laybourn for persuading him down off that ledge. The two of them now give talks on mental health issues and suicide prevention together.
Looking back now on that day, Laybourn says: “It’s made me much more aware of how important it is to put the amount of kindness you have in you, out into the world.”
But what is it, exactly, that makes us kind? Why are some of us kinder than others – and what stops us from being kinder?
The Kindness Test, a major new study involving more than 60,000 people from 144 different countries, has been looking into these and other questions. Launched on BBC Radio 4 and devised by the University of Sussex, it is believed to be the largest public study of kindness ever carried out in the world.
The results, which are currently the subject of a three-part Radio 4 documentary The Anatomy of Kindness, suggest that people who receive, give or even just notice more acts of kindness tend to experience higher levels of wellbeing and life satisfaction.
Other encouraging findings are that as many as two-thirds of people think the pandemic has made people kinder and nearly 60% of participants in the study claimed to have received an act of kindness in the previous 24 hours. [Continue reading…]