February 11th – February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Week. We all know that being kind and doing nice things for others is a positive experience, but are you aware of the effects of kindness on others as well as the personal benefits that result from being compassionate towards others? The power of kindness is very strong and positive psychology suggests that the more we do things for others, the happier we are ourselves.
Our brains tend to have a negative cognitive bias which means that we typically focus on the negative events they are happening around us and discount all of the positive events. For example, have you ever stubbed your toe or been stuck in traffic which causes you to feel upset or irritable and seems to make you forget about the good things that happened, like your son got an A+ on his science test, or you remembered to pack your lunch that day, or even that you received a “good job” from your boss at work? Although our brains tend to generate negative thoughts, the good news is that we can combat that negative thinking by challenging automatic thoughts, focusing on the positive and using gratitude and kindness.
So what are random acts of kindness and how do we practice them? A random act of kindness is when you decide to do something nice for someone else, just because you can. For example, paying for the coffee for the person behind you at the drive thru or in line at Dunkin’ Donuts, holding the door open for someone whose hands are full or leaving a nice note for a co-worker on their desk to remind them that they are doing a good job. Random acts of kindness typically are events that have no obvious benefit for ourselves, but we do them because it feels like a nice thing to do. The great part about random acts of kindness is that they promote positive thoughts and emotions for us personally.
Performing an act of kindness helps increase the “happy chemicals” in the brain, which include dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins.
Dopamine: helps motivate you to take action towards goals and desires and produces an increase of pleasure once we achieve those goals.
Serotonin: a chemical is produced when you feel important, valued or appreciated.
Oxytocin: a release of this chemical promotes trust, intimacy and strengthens relationships.
Endorphins: helps in response to acute pain or stress which helps reduce the effect of anxiety or depression.
Practicing acts of kindness also promotes compassion, patience, empathy and reduces stress. Simply witnessing someone else perform an act of kindness promotes positive results internally! Have you ever noticed yourself smiling when someone else is getting their picture taken? It can feel a bit silly, but seeing someone else happy can make you happy as a result. Doesn’t is make you feel good when you see a stranger help someone across the street, or offer change to a stranger who is short at the parking meter?
Now that we know all about how beneficial acts of kindness can be for ourselves and those around us, here is a list of some ideas to get you started on your kindness journey:
- Give someone a compliment
- Visit an old friend
- Let someone ahead of you in a traffic jam
- Put change in a vending machine
- Help clean up a mess
- Donate food to a food drive or shelter
- Write a letter to a relative
- Make a bird feeder
- Pick up litter
- Snap a photo for a couple
- Open the door for someone
- Send someone a small gift anonymously
- Text a friend to say you’re thinking of them
- Bringing someone a coffee, just how they like it
- Volunteer at an animal shelter
- Bring in a neighbors trash bins
- Smile at strangers
- Shovel someone’s driveway
- Leave a nice note on someone’s car
- Tell someone how they have positively impacted your day
By: Melissa Major, MHC-LP