It was a bright, busy Sunday afternoon in a restaurant, and the woman bussing our dishes beamed. I’d just complimented her lovely pink nail polish. “It’s hard in this job,” she smiled as she wiggled her fingers in display. “But I try to take care of my nails.” She gave us an extra grin as she cleared our plates.
“That gave her wings,” my husband commented as she walked away.
He was right. I had noticed something she was proud of, so she felt validated – probably something that doesn’t often happen with people in her job. What’s more, the quick, shared moment had made me feel good as well. I felt more connected to her, enjoying the fact that we were no longer complete strangers but rather people chatting on a Sunday afternoon.
Neuroscience bears this out. When we undertake an act of kindness, endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine are released in our brains. These are chemicals that, in part, make us feel good – what’s known as a “helper’s high.” They also help create new neural connections in our brains, which means it becomes easier and easier to undertake such random acts of kindness. Essentially, we build muscles for kindness.
This is great news as we approach Golden Rule Week, from April 1-7. All sorts of organizations, schools, even city councils are promoting kindness campaigns and asking people to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We can join these campaigns individually, challenging ourselves to commit at least one act of kindness each day during Golden Rule Week. We can join them as families or teams, setting goals for how many acts of kindness collectively we can commit.
Here are some thoughts about how we can build our kindness muscles:
* Reach out to someone who might be feeling lonely. A simple text can do wonders, and a call or visit even more.
* Be curious enough about someone different from you to ask them a question. Stanford neuroscientist Jamil Zaki notes this helps us see other people in their full, human complexity – something vital in our polarized time when we are encouraged to see others as mere stereotypes.
* Imagine a kind act you could commit in the future. Studies show even imagining an act of kindness has benefits.
* Read a novel about people different from you. Other studies show that entering someone else’s world builds empathy, which is part of kindness.
* Talk with your children, asking their opinions about why kindness is important. You’ll show them you value their opinion, model being empathetic, and spend quality time together.
* Be kind to yourself! In our competitive society, our “self-talk” – that constant commentator in our heads – too often is negative. Give yourself grace, and you’ll be ever more able to give it to others.
April 1-7 is a great chance to build our kindness muscles. We can have wide impact, as acts of kindness help us, the people we reach, and even the “kindness bystanders” who watch or hear about our actions. As you think about setting Golden Rule goals, remember the words of the Dalai Lama: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”