The Psychology of Pandemics breaks down a pandemic into 4 contagions, illustrating how the initial biological contagion catalyses three additional contagious responses; the contagions of fear, disinformation and, more positively, the contagion of kindness.

We recently published a report on the value of health, using this model to identify and understand emerging consumer behaviours, showing how the contagions impact health needs, motivations and priorities.

In the report, we outlined that the measures necessary (e.g. lockdown and social distancing) to control the biological contagion, and preserve people’s physical health, have taken an unfortunate toll on people’s mental health.

As a result, the global need for kindness has become even more pronounced. In this contagion of kindness people seek comfort, care and reassurance in the connections they have with others — evidenced by the collective applause for healthcare workers and the random acts of kindness we’ve seen from both brands and individuals.

The COVID-19 crisis is collective trauma, on a global scale

While controlling the spread of the COVID-19 virus is the global imperative, the drastic measures undertaken are having severe repercussions on people’s emotional wellbeing.

In fact, nearly half of the people living in the United States feel the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health. With social distancing measures contributing to loneliness, increased unemployment triggering depression, and prolonged periods of uncertainty causing widespread anxiety, it is little wonder that people not only fear the pandemic itself, but also the impact it will have on their futures and the futures of their loved ones.

A pandemic is considered a global crisis — psychological research suggests crisis is a form of trauma. Experts argue that COVID-19 is a form of collective trauma, on a global scale. The psychological ramifications of trauma are significant, leaving many people feeling isolated, helpless and searching for reciprocal support however and wherever they can.

Kindness is good for you

Source: Opening Doors London

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s theme is (rather appropriately) kindness, defined by The Mental Health Foundation as “a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health.”

Indeed, a growing body of research has highlighted the many positive benefits of kindness. From a healthier heart, to the slowing of the aging process (through the release of oxytocin), kindness impacts both our well-being and our physical health in ways that we previously thought unthinkable.

You can catch kindness

Firstly, kindness is contagious! This means it not only impacts the receiver, but also the giver and observer of the kind acts. ‘Catching’ kindness is not limited to face-to-face interaction, but spreads online too — through social networks and viral news stories.

Research has also shown that kindness spreads through others, and that every kind act has the potential to triple its impact. As such, one small act of kindness has the potential to cause a ripple effect and this is an ‘R number we’re certainly keen to increase!

Meaningful connections are powered by kindness

Secondly, kindness improves relationships. Through the ‘emotional bonds’ we form in groups, kindness enables more meaningful connections (vis-a-vis kindness has the ability to bring your brand closer to your consumers).

Kindness also has the capacity to create and nurture communities. Whether it be the creation of ‘a street WhatsApp’ group to help at risk neighbours, or the growing desire to ‘support local’ in order to ensure the survival of local favourites in a post-COVID world — kindness has the power to unite people and create real, meaningful change.

Kindness = happiness, happiness = kindness

Finally, brands should recognise the positive feedback loop between kindness and happiness, i.e. kindness makes you happy and happiness makes you kind.

Daily, we know people are struggling with their mental health and mounting uncertainty around many aspects of their lives. It is clear that brands should foster a kinder and more human-first approach to make their consumers happy. Brands able to become ‘kindness pioneers’, making people happy, are those most likely to retain a loyal consumer base through uncertain times.

We know kindness is good for business

At Brand Genetics we believe in ‘Positive Innovation’, which means innovating with people’s happiness and wellbeing in mind.

By making human happiness a key (or even the primary) objective, Positive Innovation can help humanise innovation and tap into a fundamental and universal human goal; the pursuit of happiness. It can also help deliver profitable new products and services that can drive growth and keep people coming back for more.

The Human Experience (HX) Learnings

We already know kindness is one of the top five most valued character strengths for Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z. The events of 2020 thus far have shown this human need for kindness, for care and reassurance, is now greater than ever.

We have seen the pandemic trigger a societal shift towards a newfound value for care workers, the emotional labour and kindness that once went unnoticed. From mutual aid groups to the global Care Workers Clap, a renewed appreciation for kindness may pave the way for what the WEF is calling the ‘mental health care revolution’.

All brands should remember that kindness is contagious and an act of kindness at an individual or personal level has the potential to cause a positive ripple effect. We advocate all brands should make a long term commitment to kindness — don’t doubt the power and impact of small acts of kindness.

After all, people are looking for something better than ‘normal’. They want a safer, happier and kinder future.

Nathania Messer is a senior consultant at Brand Genetics, an agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. Having worked in insight and innovation for 5 years, Nathania has a breadth of experience in the world of FMCG and beyond.

Human-Centered Insight, Innovation and Trends from Brand Genetics

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