Benefits of kindness

This week has been “one of those weeks” for me.  I have three days of classes at school to get ready for next week, a workshop to run, and a full schedule.  I have a whole lot of organizing to do regarding school schedules, requests, responses etc. each evening.  I’ve got a “to do” list as long as my arm, and I seem to spend most of my time addressing important issues that aren’t even on the list. It’s been one of those weeks, that, just when I think I can see the goal line in the distance, it gets moved beyond my reach…another request from the school, I glitch I couldn’t have predicted but now have to work through, extra calls about this or that that deserve a response…the usual sort of stuff…but just so much more than usual.

And then a brief email from an acquaintance that is distancing and cool…it was carefully not critical of me…but was painful in its brevity and finality…kinda a “straw on the camel’s back” that just suddenly made it all seem too much.

And as I was scrambling to get through my backlog of unattended emails, in popped a new one.

From a friend that knew it was a stressful week.

It was a e-card for Starbucks for a free drink.

Changed my afternoon.

Oh, the work didn’t go away, and I was still overwhelmed, but my spirit changed.

So, when I emailed my friendly-but-highly-distractible-and-doesn’t-return-emails webmaster about the still missing drop down lists which I have been waiting for since September in an increasingly-not-so-patient way yet once more, I “yelled” at him…you know, one of those emails in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. I can’t remember when the last time I used all caps in an email…but the gift of a latte had me yell this:


I’m still ticked that it’s taking so long…but I read this paragraph to the others in the office, and we had a good laugh.  And I felt better about myself and the situation…I worked assertively on the issue, but in a way that is playful, fun and kind.  I felt good about it…and candidly, good about me, in that moment.

It reminds me of an article I read this week from the Enroute magazine.  The author, Charles Montgomery helped a young mom with a cranky kid and a pile of carry on to rush her her plane. After he finished helping her, he said:

I paused there for a moment to record my psychophysiological state. Heart rate: slowing. Feelings of stress: zip. Happiness, on a scale of one to 10? Oh, at least a nine.

I felt great, especially considering I was midway through my own marathon multi-leg journey. Now an admission: This act of airport altruism was not an expression of saintly ambition. It was not driven by a deep concern for my harried fellow traveller. It was a test inspired by new discoveries in brain science and psychology. These insights have changed the way I travel. They may change the way you travel, too.

A few years ago I began following a loose-knit group of economists and psychologists who had coalesced around the same goal: to find the recipe for human happiness. They use surveys and brain scans and elaborate games to see when and why we are cheery. No matter the method, the conclusion that almost all the happiness eggheads eventually reach is that nothing – not money, not status, not roller-coaster rides or the latest smartphone – contributes to well-being as much as positive relationships with other people. When it comes to happiness, every interaction counts. (bolded emphasis mine)


The author proceeded to remind the readers that acts of kindness produce a burst of oxytocin, a “feel good” chemical that bathes the brain in a relaxed,calming sense of well being.  It is a “relationship hormone” of sorts…it is produced in community.  The effect can last for 20-30 minutes…and kindness give a good “bang for the buck”…because each act of kindness produces the shower of oxytocin to at least two brains…the giver and the receiver…and even potentially bystanders that act as witness to the kindness.  This wash of oxytocin will reduce anxiety and slow your heart rate.

cute boy feeding sweet girl highlighting the release of oxytocin with acts of kindness
My brother is an accountant…a good one.  He deals in black and white, columns and figures.  Life is basic…if A, then B.  He can negotiate his way around a spreadsheet in ways that make most people’s head spin (speaking personally…definitely mine).  He’s great…and his take on sadness is simple.  When one of his kids or his wife might call him and tell him they are unhappy, his response is simple. :

Go do something nice for someone and that will help you feel better.

I’ve often kinda joked with him about his simplistic approach. And it is.  But the research is proving that he’s onto something.  Kindness really does help a person feel better.

In this cold and frigid weather, it’s not easy to stay positive.  Act out some small kindnesses to cheer yourself up?
…and it may just cheer up more than you!

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