Bringing Kindness Back
Jan 27, 2015 09:04PM
● Published by Dia
By Catherine Adcock
You have surely experienced it—an emotional high that comes right after you’ve helped another person. Perhaps you feel better because you’ve redirected your attention away from your own problems. Perhaps, the high centers around a feeling of usefulness that even your own job can’t provide. Or perhaps, it’s just knowing that another person’s day just got a little bit better.
Study after study has shown that in helping others, we also help ourselves. So no wonder so many regularly give freely of their time, their services and their money to help others who desperately need the assistance. Somehow, though, the grind of the day to day, the stress of work and anxiety about an uncertain future often distract us from what some would say is a natural-born drive to look out for everyone else.
Return to Kindness
Fortunately, more than a few organizations are working fervently to remind us of how easy and important it is to bring kindness back into our daily lives.
This Feb. 9 to 15, the Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Foundation based in Denver, aims to promote plentiful acts of kindness during Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Week and beyond.
“We have been focusing on, ‘How do we celebrate the week, and then make it part of who we are,’” says Random Act of Kindness Foundation Vice President Brooke Jones.
She advocates making seemingly random acts of kindness a deliberate and regular part of your life. “How can you infuse kindness into your life every day?” she asks. “Where in the moments of your daily life can you add kindness?”
Kindness can incorporate the simplest and easiest of acts.
“Maybe when you’re driving to work, it’s letting someone in front of you on the highway,” says Jones, who emphasizes that you can also make it part of your routine. “Maybe when you wake up in the morning, the first thing you do is turn off your alarm on your phone and text a positive message to a loved one, ‘I’m thinking of you, and I appreciate everything you do.’”
The RAK foundation was created in 1995 to spread selfless acts around the globe. The foundation was born in San Francisco, after a year during which the city experienced a series of senseless, seemingly random acts of violence, explains Jones. A response to this period, the new organization hoped to promote random acts of kindness, a play on a familiar saying: “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” The phrase dates back to the early '80s, when California artist Anne Herbert reportedly scrawled it out on a place mat in a restaurant in Sausalito.
Today, like in 1995, our newspaper headlines and nightly news broadcasts consist of reports on violence, terrorism and war—which should make acts of kindness seem even more vital.
Of course, promoting selfless acts or volunteerism is nothing new, and countless organizations aim to promote the same kind of ethos.
Perhaps it’s no wonder then that 62.2 million Americans volunteered last year, giving the equivalent of $173 million of services, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. Perhaps you have given a few hours to feed someone else, to help raise money for a good cause or to mentor young people.
Even more Americans give of their time informally every day. At least 173 million people practice kindness through watching each other’s children, helping with shopping, housesitting and more.
During Random Acts of Kindness Week, Jones advocates that we stay close to home: “It’s a matter of finding something where you can do something nice for someone else every day. Maybe by the last day, it’s become a part of your daily life. Maybe you’ve stepped it up each day, and you realize, ‘This is awesome; I should be doing this every day.’”
The kind of deliberate acts of kindness we do every day caught the attention of the staff at Grapevine Relief And Community Exchange (GRACE), a Grapevine-based nonprofit relief agency which provides assistance to people struggling with a limited income or recent emergency to help them achieve self-sufficiency.
“There are random acts of kindness that people do spur of the moment, but there are also deliberate acts of kindness that people set out to do,” says Shonda Schaefer, GRACE executive director. “That’s where our volunteers come from and our donors come from. That’s where our staff comes from. Whether it is random or deliberate, it all comes from a person with a good heart wanting to do something for someone in need.”
The organization created Acts of Kindness (A-OK for short) cards, for the staff and select volunteers to hand out when they see a kindness performed, beginning during the period of RAK Week this year in early February. “It’s a thank you and a recognition to anyone anytime we see an act of kindness,” says Schaefer. The cards will reward the recipient with a discount at GRACE stores Graceful Buys or the Style and Grace boutique.
The Helper’s High
That warm glow we experience upon helping others has been thoroughly documented through scientific research that has also shown the effects of kindness to be wide reaching.
Authors Allan Luks and Peggy Payne called it the Helper’s High in their book The Healing Power of Doing Good. They described it as a feeling of exhilaration and burst of energy similar to the endorphin-based euphoria experienced after intense exercise.
Helping others is linked to a change in our very body chemistry that affects our mood and our health. Numerous studies have shown that kindness increases the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood in the brain, and reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
Children who regularly offer a helping hand are happier than their counterparts. According to a study published in 2012, children ages 9 to 11 who performed acts of kindness also received the benefit of increased social acceptance.
We spoke with Dawson Middle School Principal Ryan Wilson about the school’s volunteer efforts and the payoffs he sees. In addition to regular acts of charity the students are involved in, the school organizes a Helping Hands day once a year during which the students and staff alike go out to over a dozen sites throughout surrounding communities to give back.
“It never fails,” he says. “Everyone gets the real point, which is especially good for 12, 13 and 14 year olds.” Wilson says that the effects of the day of service can be felt through the remainder of the school year, for students and grownups alike. “It’s a refill for the emotional tank that gets us ready for the next year. It’s absolutely wonderful and right for kids. Though it works the same for the adults.”
A giving spirit could also produce health benefits, leading to a reduction in pain symptoms, lowered blood pressure and better immune function. People age 55 and over who volunteer tend to live longer than their counterparts.
Soheila Phelps, Southlake senior services coordinator, thinks the benefits are self-evident for some of the members of the community who spend their time at the Southlake Senior Center. “Of course, volunteering and giving back gives them a sense of purpose,” she says. One of the senior center’s most active volunteer, Marge Kyle, agrees, “You do it because of an inner feeling inside, not for any kind of personal gain, but I certainly get more out of it than I give.”
That’s to say nothing about how far reaching the benefits go. According to one study, acts of giving have a way of multiplying themselves as they spread. The recipient of the act will often then perform an act of kindness for two or more people. Then those people, in turn, do the same, and so on.
Just ask Marge, who spends most of her free time performing acts of service for others. “I feel like it’s a chain reaction,” she explains. “If you make someone feel good, they are in all probability going to pass it on to someone.”
Her observations have been backed up by multiple studies that also have noted that it’s not just the giver and the recipient that spread the love, so to speak. The people who simply observe the original selfless act reap similar mood balancing and psychological effects and are also more likely to perform acts of kindness themselves.
This is perhaps the most surprising payoff of selflessness. When we practice acts of kindness, we are setting off a chain of selfless acts that will spread like a highly contagious disease. Of course, with symptoms like happiness, health and a sense of fulfillment, it’s an illness most people would be happy to catch.
We asked around, knowing many of our fellow Southlake citizens freely gave of their time to help others. What we found were a few tales of inspiring selflessness worthy of sharing here.
A Christmas Tale of Towels
This past Christmas, a former client at GRACE, literally gave back the soft and fuzzy kindness he had once freely received. The former client wishes to remain anonymous, but allowed us to tell his story here. He came to GRACE a few years ago, soon after his wife’s death left him a widower with two small children. She had been the primary breadwinner, and suddenly he had to support the family. As the holidays approached, GRACE helped him secure food, clothing and an opportunity to go Christmas shopping for presents for his children. At the end of the shopping trip, he was presented with a set of bath towels, which moved him to tears. He didn’t expect to receive anything for himself during the excursion. And while he needed new towels for his family, they were not something he even thought to request. “It’s such a minor little thing,” Shonda Schaefer, GRACE executive director says. “But when you talk about an act of kindness, you never know where that goes.” Those words came true this past Christmas, when the same client, now in a place of self-sufficiency, bought 100 sets of towels to be distributed to current GRACE clients during the holidays. “It moved him so much, that he thought others would be moved just as much,” says Schaefer.
Care at the Senior Center and Beyond
Southlake Senior Center member, Marge Kyle, makes selfless acts part of her everyday. “She’s always available to give a helping hand,” says Soheila Phelps, Southlake Senior Services coordinator. “She’s the first person you would ask to go for help. If there’s ever a need, she will not hesitate to lend an open hand and she will do it with an open heart.” At the Senior Center, Marge is active in several roles, including the Care committee, which looks after senior center members who are ill or in rehabilitation. She serves on the Senior Advisory Committee, chosen by the Southlake city council to advise on matters related to citizens age 55 and older. And that’s not to mention the work she does at White Chapel Church and Apex Arts League. Marge says, “I feel like I may be helping the church or the Senior Center, but the people are the highlight. I certainly get more than I give.”
Full Circle with Meals on Wheels
Metroport Meals on Wheels (MMOW) delivers much-needed food and friendship to people with limited ability in Southlake and surrounding communities. For volunteer driver Neil Perkins, who has made MMOW deliveries for 17 years, it all came full circle this past summer. After his wife’s shoulder surgery, MMOW provided meals for both her and Neil during her recuperation. “She was afraid for me to leave because she couldn’t do much for herself,” Perkins says. “MMOW took away that worry and the layer of responsibility of preparing meals so I could concentrate on caring for her.” Now that she is mended from her surgery, Neil is back on his route, delivering meals, companionship and an added caring touch to the area’s seniors. “I love to tease the ladies on my route and see them laugh,” Perkins says. Before he leaves for his route, Neil always stops to pick up fresh fruit to share, which brings smiles to the faces of the seniors, according to Neil. “It is a blessing to touch older folks and show compassion because so many of them don’t get that,” he says.
You don’t have to make a grand gesture or go out of your way to make kindness part of your everyday. Here are some easy actions you can take to bring more warm and fuzzies into the world.
Just say cheese. Flash your pearly whites at every person you see all day long. Smile especially if you don’t feel like it. Scientific studies have shown that smiling brightens your mood.
Never dine alone. Pick someone new to grab some grub with. Maybe it’s a shy classmate or a coworker who’s been going through a hard time. You never know—it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Share the love. Make sure to tell your family members, friends and special ones that you love them at some point during the day.
Make a commitment. Call up an organization you care about and volunteer. Whether it’s an hour a month or once a week, you are sure to receive as much as you give.
Get out of line. Let the person behind you go first. You don’t know what the other person’s day has been like. Maybe she’s in a rush or received some bad news—your kindness can turn her day around.
Say something nice. Dole out compliments to every person you see. Tell someone they did a good job on a project or that they look extra nice.
Go viral. Only share positive messages on social media for a week. Make every comment a compliment. Don’t be surprised when you see your digital kindness multiplied across the entirety of the world wide web.
Mind your manners. Make it a point to say “Thank You” as often as possible throughout the day. Take it a step further with an appreciative email to a coworker or a grateful text to a friend. Or go old-school with a handwritten thank you note, which most people would enjoy opening a lot more than bills and junk mail.
Park far, far away. Don’t take the closest spot to the doors—leave it for someone who needs it more, like a person with limited mobility or someone who is late for an important appointment.
Stand up. Give up your seat in a crowded waiting room or spot at an event to someone else. Maybe he has a hard time standing for long periods or has poor vision and needs to be closer to the stage.
Give it away. Collect unwanted items around the house into a box and then sort them according to recipient. Most non-profits will appreciate office and household supplies; clothes, toiletries and packaged foods can go to a shelter; and most animal rescue organizations will be grateful for used pet toys.
Just say, “Yes.” When a new project or task comes up at work, at school or at home, be the first to volunteer to complete it and do it with a good, positive attitude. Be generous with your time, and it will benefit everyone— including you!
Pass the buzz backward. Buy the coffee of the next person in line. And leave immediately, like a coffee bandit. You can rest assured that your act will be repeated until dozens of people are experiencing kindness (and extra morning buzzes).
Clean it up. Do a household chore without being asked and keep it a secret. The best acts of kindness don’t expect recognition or a thank you. If you are looking for bonus points, make it something you rarely do, like cleaning the dishes, mopping the floor, taking out the trash or folding the laundry.
The power of conversation. Say, “Good morning,” to everyone you see at work, or at school and start a conversation. Ask her how she is, how the weekend was or what she’s up to. Try to make a connection with as many people as possible.
Positive Post-Its. Fill a pad of sticky notes with kind thoughts and quotes and place them everywhere you go during the day. On the mirror in a bathroom, on the back of a register as you check out, in the bread aisles or by the coffee pot. Your little piece of paper will start plenty of smiles.
Package up some care. Bake a treat, buy a gift card or create a care package for someonewho makes your life better, like a custodian, maid, IT support staff, mail carrier or garbage collector.
Give 40 percent. Tip twice the amount you normally do. It may only be a couple of dollars more, but it will make both you and the recipient glow with kindness.
Helping by hand. Gather up items you could give to a homeless shelter, like gift cards, blankets, new clothes, shoes, and pass them out to the homeless in person. The joy and gratitude will be contagious.
Say more than, “I’m sorry.” Make amends with someone you’ve harmed. Tell them you’re sincerely regretful for your behavior, ask what you can do to make it right, and listen. Truly wanting to make the other person feel better will make it mean more than just saying, “I’m sorry.”