No act of kindness no matter how small is ever wasted. - Aesop
Last spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the USA and the city of Minneapolis was on shelter-in-place orders, I started taking a course called "The Science of Well-Being" taught by Dr. Laurie Santos at Yale University. Dr. Santos designed this course for her students who were exhibiting symptoms of stress and unhappiness. She focused the curriculum on research showing beliefs and practices that get in the way of or promote happiness with the goal of arming her students with practices they can use to shift their experience as "Yalies." Although I was not/am not a Yalie, I found the course to be a really sweet thing to do for myself at a time when there was so much uncertainty.
Dr. Santos provided further evidence to the strength of the mind: how our mindsets create our reality. She covered everything from meditation and gratitude journaling, to shifting mindsets about measuring accomplishments and success; spending time in nature, sleep and exercise. After the 12-week course, you know what stood out to me the most?
The most effective way to increase personal happiness is being kind to others.
Kindness promotes gratitude, empathy and compassion. These feelings help us feel connected with others, less alone. It reminds us that we're not so different after all, but reminds us about the core values that unite us in community with each other.
Acts of kindness also move us out of selfish ego and into compassion for others. It relieves stress, boosts our immune systems and reduces anger, anxiety and depression. "Feel good" chemicals are also released in our brains, including dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Pain is even reduced by kindness when endogenous opioids are secreted.
Doesn't that just sound like magic?!
What I love about this method of mind-body medicine is that there's also a return on investment. Kindness spreads - as evidenced by pay-it-forward lines that last days - and comes back to the giver. Acts of kindness do not need to be extravagant or expensive. They could be as simple as letting someone slide into traffic or sending a "thinking of you" card to a loved one.
Kindness and compassion are two things this world could always use more of, but especially now as we're rolling into year two of this global pandemic, and needing to continue staying socially and physically distanced.
If this is resonating with you, start with yourself. Self-compassion (kindness aimed at yourself) is a way to relate to yourself that shows support and nurturing. We're culturally encouraged to be self-critical, so if being kind to yourself is a new way of being check out these exercises for getting a self-compassion practice started from researcher Kristen Neff, PhD. If you're trying to cultivate a new health habit, self-compassion will increase your perseverance more than criticism, so this is an important skill!
It may feel easier to share kindness with the people in your life. Try integrating a small act of kindness into every day and give yourself the opportunity to observe what happens in your own mental and emotional headspace in response to the experience.
Why Random Acts of Kindness Matter to Your Well-Being
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