Saturday 19 January 2013

"A Million Thanks"

"That best portion of a good man's life; his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love." ~ William Wordsworth
A couple of weeks ago I introduced the challenge of committing 52 acts of kindness over the coming year - one kindness for each week. I like to think that I am pretty generous and kind on a good day. So the challenge is not so much in starting a new habit for myself, it's about sharing a secret with you: being kind to others makes you feel good. Shh! Don't tell anyone.
Random acts of kindness is not a new idea. I see a few versions of this all around me. A friend recently posted a challenge on facebook: the first five people who responded to her would receive a surprise gift sometime this year. It might be a piece of handmade art or a coffee date. The catch was that you had to then pay it forward to five more people.
I recently picked up Chatelaine magazine and read that they have also have a kindness challenge: the Kind Cycle. Yesterday, I was in Starbucks and as I waited for my latte, the barista told me about a customer who had paid enough to cover the next 12 requests for coffee in the drive through. Pretty kind thing to do for complete strangers on a cold, foggy morning!
But my little challenge has also gotten me thinking about a few things. What is kindness, for example. Is an act of kindness holding a door open for the person behind you? Um, no. I think that's just good manners. Is it doing something out of the blue for someone "just because"? Wait a minute now, I think we might be on to something.

The other thing that I have been pondering is why aren't more people kind? Again, I don't mean polite or displaying good manners, although I think that is on the wane in our society, sadly, and needs a revival. I mean showing true kindness. Are we too busy? Are we too focused on our lives? What is it? I can't quite put my finger on it but maybe talking about the benefits will encourage more kindness.

"If you haven't any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble."
--Bob Hope

Dr. David R. Hamilton, Ph D, wrote about the Five Beneficial Side Effects of Kindness for Huffington Post in 2011. Here is some of what he had to say:

1) Kindness makes us happier.
"When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good.  On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain's natural versions of morphine and heroin. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high."

2) Kindness gives us healthier hearts.
"Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body. Of much recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure, and therefore oxytocin is known as a "cardio-protective" hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure)."

3) Kindness slows ageing.
Aging on a biochemical level is a combination of many things, but two culprits that speed the process are free radicals and inflammation, both of which result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices.
But remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (which we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and thus slows ageing at its source. Incidentally these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease, so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart."

4) Kindness makes for better relationships.
"This is one of the most obvious points. We all know that we like people who show us kindness. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people, so we feel more "bonded." It's something that is so strong in us that it's actually a genetic thing. We are wired for kindness.
Our evolutionary ancestors had to learn to cooperate with one another. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater the chances of survival, so "kindness genes" were etched into the human genome."

5) Kindness is contagious.
"When we're kind, we inspire others to be kind, and it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends' friends' friends -- to three degrees of separation. Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, so acts of kindness ripple outwards, touching others' lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes."

Amen! So, if that's not enough to convince you to take up the challenge and start committing acts of kindness, here's one final reason. It's a testimonial, really. It's my story. Whenever I have struggled through the darkest days of depression, it was the acts of kindness that I received that ensured that I weathered my own particular storm. It was the cards that my friend Pam mailed to me because she knew that I couldn't pick up the phone if she called. It was my BFF, Tammy, including me in dinners with her family, over and over again - literally feeding my soul and helping me recover. It was my "second mom" deciding on her own that she would drive down from her home in Kelowna to stay with me for a week while my parents were away, just so that I would not be alone in the darkness with my demons.

Big or small, an act of kindness is invaluable to the person who receives it. So let's dig deep, my friends, and challenge ourselves to be just a bit more considerate, a bit more kind. I promise you that you will feel the benefits that Dr. Hamilton spoke about. I know that I do every single time that I remind myself to be kind.

KB xo

P.S. Are you looking for some kindness inspiration? Check out these two links chock full of inspiration. Enjoy!

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