There’s always some buzz about random acts of kindness—great, heart-warming videos out on the Internet or sites devoted to sharing stories of people bringing happiness and warmth to a stranger’s day. The act of spreading kindness can do as much for you as it can for someone else—but sometimes the line is blurred between what constitutes an actual act of kindness and what’s just common courtesy. First, let’s talk about some of the great benefits of 'paying it forward.'
Giver’s Glow. Altruism (caring for others and doing things that benefit them more than yourself) has been shown to increase your brain’s release of happy hormones, dopamine and endogenous opioids (endorphins, enkephalins, etc.). And regular release of these hormones is known to decrease stress, anxiety and depression.
Outlet for Negativity. In 2013, Detroit news channels were sharing the story of Holly Schultz, a Michigan woman who honored her mother, who had passed five years earlier, by performing random acts of kindness. These random acts, like filling parking meters or buying coffee for strangers, helped her to honor and remember her mother in a happy way, instead of dwelling on her sadness. Think about it: If you’re upset, angry or grieving, channeling those negative feelings into something positive can provide instant relief.
Sense of Purpose and Control. An article from Psychology Today tells the story of a man from New Jersey, rabbi Shmuel Greenbaum, who dealt with the violent death of his wife by committing a small act of kindness each day which gradually replaced his feelings of anger and apathy with a driving sense of purpose. According to the article, through his acts of kindness, Greenbaum started to heal, cultivated a sense of purpose and began to feel in control of things in his world.
Heart Health. Another positive side effect of giving without strings attached is your body’s release of oxytocin which expands your blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. This is why oxytocin is known as a “cardioprotective” hormone. The Corporation for National Service used data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found that states with high volunteer rates had lower rates of heart disease. And the Journal of Health Psychology correlated volunteerism to delayed mortality—basically the people who volunteered lived longer.
Snowball Effect. When someone does something kind, it may inspire the receiver to also do something kind—creating a ripple effect. In an incredible study, A Nonsimultaneous, Extended, Altruistic-Donor Chain, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed a string of 10 kidney transplants with a common thread. It started with a man who decided to donate his kidney randomly, then the husband of the wife receiving the kidney decided to do the same—miraculously this continued until 10 people had received a new kidney from a donor they did not know.
Courtesy vs. Random Acts of Kindness
Often you’ll see things like “open the door for others,” “say hello to a stranger” or “hug a loved one” on lists of ideas for random acts of kindness—but these behaviors and acts should be considered common courtesy and generally nice behavior rather than something extraordinary. These are things you should be doing any way!
Instead, think of things that you can do that take some thought, effort or time. Buy the coffee for the car behind you in the drive-thru lane, donate blood, hand out hats and gloves to people in need, pay the bill for another’s meal at a restaurant, shovel your neighbor’s driveway, leave a kind note of inspiration on a stranger’s car, bring flowers to a nursing home—the list could go on and on! We’d love to hear your ideas too, add some of your ideas for random acts of kindness in our comment section below.