KINDNESS WORKS better than money at fostering well-being and sound mental health, according to Vanessa Summers a third year psychology student at the University of Sussex. So she is helping to set up an initiative to promote that human quality.
She has already helped set up a local partnership with KindnessUK, an organisation that researches kindness and organises events to promote it. SussexKindness will run a kindness competition on campus in Freshers’ Week in September and the winners will be announced on Kindness Day UK in November. Vanessa, who plans to stay on to study for a postgraduate certificate next year, plans also to help stage events to celebrate charitable activities and acts of kindness.
Vanessa became involved with the Kindness project through her studies in psychology and through working with Jessica Cotney a researcher in the University’s School of Psychology’s Children’s’ Relationships, Emotions and Social Skills (CRESS) lab. “Psychologists have identified that 'being kind' is associated with positive well-being in adults. For example, adults that spend time volunteering tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who don't, and when people spend money on others their own mood improves,” explained Jessica.
There has been little research of this kind with adolescents and so SussexKindness will help CRESS research how, why and when behaving in a kind manner makes younger people happy.
Vanessa pointed to the recent fiercely contested Varsity sports competition between the University and its neighbour Brighton University, and said “kindness often gets squeezed out by competitiveness and a desire to get ahead.”
SussexKindness aims to put the quality back into the student conscience. “We are getting it off the ground on campus by setting up a Facebook and an Instagram page, and we recently handed out free chocolate,” she said. Plans are afoot to begin handing stars with compliments written on them to staff and students – and to random strangers in town. “We want to get people to see kindness as a way of life and make people more aware of it,” she said.
Robin Banerjee, Professor of developmental psychology said: “Vanessa has been one of our most proactive and energetic student reps who, as well as fostering positive and constructive dialogue between students and faculty at the University, has shown a real passion for promoting kindness across campus and beyond. She is an enthusiastic supporter of our new SussexKindness initiative, and has played a leading role in helping us to get this work started.”
Vanessa is determined to put her principles into practice too. She spends much of her spare time fund raising for charities or helping out fellow students.
She works as the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s (NSPCC’s) representative on campus. She also previously handled the internal communications for RAG (Raising and Giving) the University of Sussex’s Student Union’s charity fund raising arm. Rag has raised cash for 10 different charities this year and sends student volunteers into various local charities to work.
Vanessa has volunteered in various different roles in the students’ union helping newcomers settle in and dishing out information whilst working in reception. And, as student representative for the School of Psychology, she plans soon to start a “Time to Change” campaign to work with her fellow psychologists to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Vanessa said: “I do not believe that money is the greatest asset that someone can have, it is the joy they get from coming home after work each day with the knowledge that they have helped someone.”
To find out more about the University of Sussex: drop into the University’s pop-up shop at 20 Gardner Street from 29 April to 29 May.