“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”– Mark Twain
This week, I was sitting at a coffee shop researching ideas about kindness when a spontaneous act of kindness occurred. A man was ordering a fancy latte and a breakfast burrito and a woman walked into the shop, yelling obscenities and in a clear state of distress and suffering. Most people sadly paid no mind to this woman, as we were downtown and most of us have become accustomed to this kind of occurrence. However, this man made a point to connect with her and gave her the burrito he just ordered. After listening to this whole interaction, I was left with a warm feeling inside and smiled to myself. It made me want to give a burrito to the next homeless person I saw and I first handedly experienced the ripple effect of this man being kind to someone else, despite the state she was in and her appearance.
These acts of kindness are memorable for me, and I reflect on them when I’m faced with the choice to do something kind. Unfortunately, many people today don’t expect you to go out of your way and do something kind for them without any reward or recognition. My dad, and our CEO, has a quirky act of kindness that he does every time we go to Mcdonalds for hot fudge sundaes, which has become a favorite family tradition. He always gives the employee at the window at least an extra $20 bill, or significantly more than the total of our sundaes. I’ve seen many hardworking employee’s faces light up with shock and gratitude and it makes enjoying those sundaes even better. We need to change the shock factor of kindness and make it the norm so that more people can be happy and encouraged to spread goodness. Kindness is one of the only things that doubles when you share it, and it has the power to change the way people see and experience the world, fostering a more caring and civil society.
The Benefits of Kindness
The feel-good effect that kindness creates shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley has done extensive research on the benefits of kindness on both mental and physical health. Their researchshows that Kindness is biological and it’s part of the human imperative. If you perform one random act of kindness a day, you’ll not only reduce stress, anxiety and depression, but your body is flooded with hormones that make you and the person you’ve helped calmer, happier and healthier.
According to their research, Kindness increases:
- Oxytocin: Witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin which lowers blood pressure and improves our overall heart-health. Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism.
- Energy: According to Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center, “About half of participants in one study reported that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth”
- Happiness: In a study conducted by The Journal of Social Psychology followed three groups of people over 10 days. The first group performed an act of kindness daily, the second group tried something new each day and the third group got no specific instructions. The groups took a life satisfaction survey both before and after the 10-day timeframe and the groups that practiced kindness or tried something new enjoyed a significantly higher level of happiness, while the control group’s happiness didn’t change.
- Lifespan: In her book Raising Happiness; In Pursuit of Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, Christine Carter states that “People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.”
- Pleasure: According to research from Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up, as if you were the recipient of the good deed—not the giver. This phenomenon is called the “helper’s high.”
- Serotonin: Kindness stimulates the production of the feel-good chemical, serotonin. Serotonin helps heal your wounds, calms you down, and makes you happy!
Conversely, Kindness Decreases:
- Pain: Acts of kindness produce endorphins, which are our brain’s natural painkillers.
- Stress: Kindness leads to 23% less cortisol , the stress hormone, and age slower than the average population.
- Anxiety: According to a study conducted by The University of British Columbia, a group of highly anxious people performed at least six acts of kindness a week. After one month, there was a significant increase in positive moods and relationship satisfaction, and a decrease in social avoidance.
- Depression: Stephen Post of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine found that when we give of ourselves, everything from life satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly improved. Mortality is delayed, depression is reduced and well-being and good fortune are increased.
- Blood Pressure: According to Dr. David R. Hamilton, engaging in acts of kindness creates emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels and reduces blood pressure.
Something even more amazing to discover when you look into the scientific benefits of kindness is that not only does it have a positive impact on the person engaging in the act, but it enhances the entire community. As I experienced when I witnessed the man giving up his breakfast burrito the other day, the chemical effects of kindness are experiencedin the brain of anyone who witnesses the act, improving your mood and making you significantly more likely to be kind as well. Thus, one good deed at a coffee shop can create a ripple effect of kindness that has the ability to make everyone’s day!
How to Cultivate Kindness
“We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love.”-Mother Teresa
Of course, kindness doesn’t have to be shown through gifts. The smallest acts of kindness can go a long way and they are easy to incorporate into your everyday life. For example,
- Letting someone cut in line at a grocery store because they have less items
- A simple smile at someone who may really need it
- Stopping your busy schedule to talk to a friend who is struggling
- Helping out a coworker on a project despite knowing you’ll have more work to do later.
- Complimenting a stranger
- Even letting someone into your lane in a traffic jam!
According to Psychology Today, “Kindness is a habit of giving—of wanting to lift burdens from others, or to merely provide a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on. It humanizes us; it lifts us spiritually. And, it is good for us.”
As we’ve discovered, one small act of kindness can release a wonderful chain of positive events. The incredible thing about kindness is that it is something we all have the choice to pass on and spread throughout the world. When you cultivate kindness and compassion, you activate a lot of the emotions that make up a meaningful life, and encourage others to do the same.
What are your favorite experiences of random acts of kindness? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!