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Positive Psychology

The Positive Psychology of Kindness

Random kindness is purposeful.

One of the core principles of positive psychology is generating positive emotion by deploying strengths. If youth feel grateful, they act kindly. They learn to understand that others have struggles and challenges and appreciate their own blessings - sharing kindness. If youth feel brave, they are not afraid - sharing to kindness. They learn to stand up for what is right even when it is not easy - sharing kindness. If youth feel empathy, they respond in kind. They put themselves in the other’s place.

How does this happen? Why does this happen? The complex biomechanics of the brain is the answer. The brain is the source of our entire affective, cognitive, and conative life. The brain is the parent of all our happy tears, worst decisions, and kind acts. The brain is the source of the kindness we extend and the kindness we receive. All of our behavior is brain-based and when mirror neurons are firing without jamming their message of empathy, kind thoughts, words, and deeds ensue.

The neuroscience and social science research is clear: kindness changes the brain by the experience of kindness. Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it. Kindness best learned by feeling it so that they can reproduce it. Kindness is an emotion that students feel and empathy is a strength that they share.

Teachers foster kindness in their classroom by teaching empathy - the second cousin of kindness. Teachers develop experiences that get student’s mirror neurons firing in empathy for others demonstrated by kindness towards others. There are many classroom experiences that offer an opportunity to teach the natural empathetic connections that nurture kindness.

Notice Kindness - Identify the feeling whenever you observe it. “You must feel kindness toward your friend because you were patient waiting for her to finish.”

Chart Kindness - Instead of putting student names on the board for not paying attention or not finishing homework, make a list on the smart board of students who show kindness toward others. Vote ote for the kindest student and put that name on the board, too!

Kindness Projects – There are many web-based kindness projects. The Kindness Project that can also teach geography tracks kindness tokens distributed all over the world when kind acts are performed.

Teach Empathetic Tolerance – Tolerance for others requires that students build the neuroscience connections that enable them to feel kindly toward others. To teach tolerance is to teach the empathy that begets feelings of kindness. One of the best sources of lessons to teach empathy that enables tolerance is the Teaching Tolerance website.

Find a way to teach kindness today and every day



Elias, M. (October 29, 2012). Can kindness be taught? George Lucas Foundation: Edutopia Blog

Simon-Thomas, E. R. (2008). Is kindess it’s own reward? UC Berkley: Greater Good Science Center

Simon- Thomas, E.R., Godzik, J, Castle, E. Antoneko, O. Ponz, A., Kogan, A. & Keltner, D. J. (2011). An fMRI study of caring vs self-focused induced compassion and pride. Stanford University: The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

Tenebaum, D. (2012). Changing brains for the better; article documents benefits of multiple practices. University of Wisconsin, Madison: News


Keltner, D. J. (2009). Born to be good: The science of a meaningful life. New York: W. W Norton & Company.

Web Resources

Gift of Kindness.org

Kindness Kids Thinkquest Team

Project Kindness

Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

Ripple Effects

The Kindness Project

Teach Tolerance

I would love to hear from you. Does your class celebrate random kindness day? Do you teach kindness explicitly throughout the year as a feeling that enables the strength of empathy? Do you have a story about a student showing kindness toward another? Do you have an example of an adolescent showing empathy? Do you agree that teaching children to feel kindness broadens and builds the strength of empathy?


Available March 2013: Positive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom and is the first in a series intended to help teachers build positive psychology classrooms.

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