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Practicing Acts of Kindness

It's not just a bumper sticker.

Source: Kalinovskiy/Shutterstock

Guest Post by Talya Steinberg, Psy.D

Acts of kindness are basic to every moral code and are probably so for a good reason. Recent research suggests that kindness may improve resiliency by promoting feelings of happiness and peace and supporting immunity. Cultivating happiness and peace is a key to resiliency because it bolsters one’s ability to stay grounded during difficult times. It also keeps the body healthy and helps ward off disease. Additionally, by improving interpersonal relationships, kindness can help build support systems so crucial during crises.

Over the past several years the subject of kindness has been receiving increased attention in the scientific community. Numerous studies have shown that receiving, giving, or even witnessing acts of kindness increases immunity and the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood in the brain. A recent study at the University of British Columbia showed that even toddlers may show psychological benefits from giving. Researchers compared toddlers’ displays of happiness after giving their own Goldfish cracker or a Goldfish cracker handed to them by a researcher to a puppet and found that toddlers displayed greater happiness when they shared their own crackers than when they gave away a cracker provided by the researcher. These findings suggest that humans, as innately social beings, may even be biologically predisposed toward acts of kindness. Kindness may foster community and sharing of resources, which ensures resiliency and survival. Additionally, kindness may nourish one’s sense of purpose and meaning, and reduce tension accumulated through interpersonal conflict. To quote the Dalai Lama, “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.”

Even just thinking and talking about kindness can improve happiness and peace. A number of years ago I attended a conference at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies led by Martin Seligman, a central figure in Positive Psychology. One of the central tenants of his discussion was indeed kindness. I recall the surprisingly strong reaction of the audience when we shared our responses to a kindness exercise called “The perfect surprise.” The instructions were to write about what we would do to give the perfect surprise to someone important in our lives. What beautiful, healing scenarios were created that day! People shed tears, smiled, and glowed. It really showed how nourishing kindness for others can be for the human soul. And it also helped to create a sense of cohesion in the audience as people shared in that sense of warmth and peace.

Here is a thoroughly noncomprehensive list of random kindness acts:

  • Write about “The Perfect Surprise” you would do for someone special.
  • Hold the door for a stranger.
  • Send a random hello email or text to a family member or friend you hardly ever see.
  • Give a compliment to someone at work or school.
  • Make a handmade card.
  • Bring donuts or bagels to work.
  • Smile to everyone.
  • Help an elder with his or her groceries.
  • Wave to children at the park.
  • Say “I love you” to everyone you love.
  • Do a chore for someone who needs help.
  • Donate
  • Volunteer
  • Listen to a friend.

Keep in mind that kindness has an additive effect and it’s really the little things that add up. So no matter how big or how small, each act of kindness makes an impact for us all.

Dr. Talya Steinberg received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology in 2011 and is completing her postdoctoral training in Portland, Maine. She endorses positive psychology principles and teaches resiliency skills with Dr. Breazeale.

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