C00 Public Domain
Source: C00 Public Domain

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. —Aesop

Depending upon the family in which you were raised, the messages you received growing up, and the makeup of your personality, emotions such as kindness, appreciation, and compassion may or may not come naturally to you. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to bring them into your interactions with others. Kindness, appreciation, and compassion are emotions that correlate directly with certain actions and can be developed with intention and attention.

Practicing such actions constructs and fortifies neural pathways associated with these emotions. These actions act as water and fertilizer, helping to cultivate kindness, appreciation, and compassion, so they bloom more fully and we feel them more deeply. Whatever we pay attention to gets bigger, whether it’s helpful and healthy or unhelpful and unhealthy. Our attention is like water, whatever we water grows larger.

We can choose to water the flowers rather than the weeds of our cognitive and emotional garden by tuning in to feelings of kindness, appreciation, and compassion, bringing them to mind, and paying attention to actions that expand our conscious contact with them. This can begin with seemingly tiny practices like sharing a smile, extending a few kindhearted words, and being emotionally present with those we come into contact with. These simple yet precious practices soften the heart and, to borrow a term from boxing, punch way above their weight. They don’t cost anything extra and we can easily engage with them, even when we’re having a difficult day.

  1. Smile – intentionally and often. A smile is the opening gesture to kindness. A genuine smile is a small yet profound act of generosity. Besides emanating kindness and connection, smiling elevates mood by triggering the release of the feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Smiling is also at least a little bit contagious; when we smile at others it frequently elicits a smile in return.
  2. Greet people when you encounter them. Say “hello,” “good morning,” and “good afternoon.” Even a nod of the head is an act of kindness, an acknowledgment of the other person.
  3. Whenever possible, greet people by name. Being called by one’s name is among the most understated, yet powerfully validating experiences a person can have. It symbolizes recognition and connection, that we care enough to remember someone’s name and to use it.
  4. Say “thank you.” It’s a way of recognizing others and honoring their efforts. The underlying message of this easy-to-take-for-granted and frequently overlooked statement is I see you and we are connected. It also expresses appreciation and acknowledges the kindness of others, the work they do, or the service they provide to us.
  5. As appropriate and emotionally safe, engage in forms of caring touch, such as gently putting a hand on another’s shoulder to communicate support, placing an arm around someone in a show of kindness, or sharing a heartfelt hug. Caring touch has multiple physiological and emotional benefits for both people. It reduces blood pressure, lowers the stress hormone cortisol, and stimulates the release of oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Touching also releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that acts as a natural antidepressant, which soothes and regulates mood.

The quality of our environment is a function of what we all bring to it. Each of these micro-practices surfaces small islands of shared kindness and connection. They provide incredibly simple yet meaningful ways you can contribute to the overall quality of your experience, and that of others.

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