Imperfect Spirituality

How to connect to the energy of everyday life

How Watching a Good Deed Elevates and Inspires

Research shows that we tend to act unselfishly when we watch others do the same.

On the way to a restaurant downtown, I watched as the driver a few cars in front purposely slowed to the let a car move in front.

Then, I yielded to another.

When my husband helped out a neighbor a few weeks ago, it prompted me to send a birthday bouquet to someone who needed encouragement. And whenever I hear one of those old Oprah stories about the Angel Network, or a community group that is helping others, I’m also motivated to be more generous.

Could it be that simply watching someone else do a good deed inspires us to help out  too?

Yep, according to research by psychological scientists Simone Schnall, Jean Roper and Daniel M.T. Fessler.

We all feel positive emotion –you know that warm, fuzzy feeling – when we help another person or even watch someone else doing a good deed. But this newest research published in the journal Psychological Science shows that not only is our mood elevated when we witness kindness, but we act more altruistic ourselves.

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Elevation Prompts Altruism

In a couple of experiments, the researchers showed study participants either a neutral television clip from a nature documentary or an uplifting one from the Oprah Winfrey Show. Those who watched the uplifting show designed to create feelings of elevation in  were more likely to volunteer to help on another study.

In the second experiment researchers again used television footage to evoke an elevated mood. When participants were done watching the clip, they were told they could leave, even while a research assistant in the room appeared to have computer problems and needed help with another questionnaire.

Those participants who viewed the uplifting clip spent nearly twice as long helping out the research assistant before leaving the room.

The scientists say that even short exposure to others doing good elevates our mood and motivates us to act unselfishly.

One Little Act of Kindness Has Big Impact

This has gotten me thinking. Not only does a kind or generous act change our physiology and leave us feeling downright better, but now we know its impacts reach far beyond the giver of kindness and the recipient.  

This is no longer about you and the individual you are assisting – it’s about you and everyone else.

Once, when I was waiting for a train downtown, a man clutching a briefcase lurched by. He was disheveled and walked with a significant limp. When he turned to look behind to see if the train was coming, another person inadvertently ran into him. The man with the limp fell, and dropped the bag, which opened scattering papers in the wind.

I ran to gather the papers. Several men who were also at the train stop went to the man and helped him to his feet. Another woman put the papers back into the case and closed it.

The train arrived. We all got on. Nobody said a thing. I was thinking how odd it was, the collision and the case opening. For a minute I was, in my cynical way, wondering if this was a set up to steal a purse or a wallet – but no harm had come.

In fact the only thing that had happened was a group of strangers helped one who needed a hand. I was glad that I’d stepped up before I let the cynicism scare me away. I was proud that others had come forward and that the man was gracious for the aid he received. Now, I’m thinking too that we all influenced each other. We all made each other kinder.

You don’t have to wait for an odd circumstance to do a good deed though. Here are some ways to get started now:

Let someone go in front of you at the check-out line.

Collect canned food from your pantry and your neighbors and deliver to a food bank.

Drop off a sweet treat at a friend’s office or  business you frequent

Buy the coffee for the person behind you at the coffee shop

Drop a bouquet off at a friend’s house

Donate a slew of stickers or temporary tattoos to the children’s hospital

Pick up litter as you pass it

Looking for some more ideas? The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has scores of suggestions that are easy, affordable – often free – and will get your creative kindness juices going.

Kindness doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t take much to make a positive change the world. And your one little act will inspire the rest of us to do good too. 

Polly Campbell is a writer in Portland, OR, working on Imperfect Spirituality, a book that shows how to integrate spiritual practices and self-improvement principles into our daily routines. more...

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