Last week I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. John-Tyler Binfet talk about the research he has been conducting at The University of BC Okanagan on the effects of Intentional acts of Kindness and personal wellbeing. What a treat. So funny and direct, he made me want to go back to University and get my Masters Degree. His research has proven when we practice going out and purposefully doing acts of kindness for others, WE are the ones who benefit even more than the receiver of the act. I hope you are as inspired as I was from what he has found.
Intentional rather than Random Acts of Kindness is the Key
The route to Happiness is through kindness and although kindness can be misunderstood as an ineffectual or even superficial nicety, it’s neither. Like many amazing practices I’ve learned through mindfulness training, kindness is inspiring, powerful, courageous and wise. It’s also disarming, compelling and transformative. In any given moment, the kindness you offer to yourself or to others affects what happens in the very next moment.
Like mindfulness itself, kindness is a natural human quality that requires intentional action to realize it’s potential. And like mindfulness, research shows that kindness is good for our physical and our emotional well-being.
Studies show that thinking about, observing or practicing a kind act stimulates that vagus nerve, which literally warms up the heart and may be closely connected to the brain’s receptor networks for oxytocin, the soothing hormone involved in maternal bonding. Kindness also triggers the reward system in our brain’s emotion regulation center releasing dopamine, the hormone that’s associated with positive emotions and the sensation of a natural high. Intentional Kindness—which reduces stress, anxiety and depression—can literally put us, and others, at ease. It works wonders in the relationships we have with ourselves and with everyone else, even with people we don’t know.
But wait there’s more:
Doing intentional acts of kindness increases life satisfaction, learning, creative thinking and problem solving and it also increases innovative thinking, all the while decreasing negative thinking. (And we have WAY TOO much of that going on these days!)
Try it next time you are out and about. Offer a kind word or gesture to someone you meet, or to someone who works in town or serves our community. Notice what happens. From a learning perspective, you’ll see that the effects are cumulative.
The more we practice, the better we get at it. This seems to be especially true in our most difficult moments. All of sudden, something shifts and we’ve chosen kindness instead of our normal habitual reaction, which for most of us is defensiveness, resent and judgement.
All frustrating experiences, bad drivers, slow check out cashiers, waiting for our perpetually late doctors, illustrates that no matter what our stories or histories, we can learn to be mindfully aware and train our minds to incline toward kindness. We get to choose how we want to be in the world.
More and more, the scientific community demonstrates that our brains can learn new things for most, if not all, of our lives. And human development and psychology teaches us that relational skills, unlike language and motor ones, do not automatically present themselves as we mature in age. The skills it takes to be in healthy relationship to self, others and our environment are ones we need to learn, once we decide to learn them and then practice them daily.
Suggestion to workplace Leadership: Formalize a week of kind acts for your team to go out and do, this simple and FREE strategy. It will not only bond your team, they will become better, healthier and more productive humans because of it.
Here’s how to start your own research; Dr. Binfet suggests:
- Rate Yourself: How kind are you currently? 1(not much), 5(very kind)
- Brainstorm all the people or places in your workplace or community you think could use some kindness.
- Choose 5 people or places or a combo of the two that you can go out and do an intentional act of kindness in the next 5 days.
- You can decide if you want to be anonymous or not.
- Execute your acts of kindness.
- Assess when the 5 days are over. Did you acts go as planned? How do you think your recipient felt? How did you feel? Thinking about all 5 acts of kindness, who do you think was most appreciative? Was there a difference in the quality of the kind acts you did.
- How did completing the acts of kindness impact you?
Here is a series on Kindness I think you will enjoy. The Kindness Diaries – Trailer