Random Acts of Kindness: the Secret Sauce to a Happy, Healthy Life
The woman in line ahead of me sensed my panic.
I had taken my elderly mother to an appointment for her second COVID-19 vaccine, and upon arriving we found ourselves at the end of a long line that snaked several times around a cavernous auditorium. Due to mobility issues, my mother has difficulty standing for more than five or 10 minutes at a time. With about 200 people in front of us, this was not going to be a quick in-and-out as was the case at the Torrington Area Health District clinic four weeks earlier. My heart sank.
With no one nearby to assist us, we were about to leave when a middle-aged woman approached us from near the front of the line and insisted we exchange places. In that moment, this stranger’s selfless act of kindness restored my faith in humanity. Were it not for social distancing rules, I would have hugged her. She will never know the depth of my gratitude. But, hopefully, she benefited somehow from her benevolence.
Have you ever noticed that when you do something nice for someone, you get a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, too? There’s a scientific reason for that. Studies have shown that altruism increases dopamine and serotonin, the feel-good chemicals in the brain.
A serotonin rush causes feelings of satisfaction and well-being. Doing something nice for someone also boosts endorphins, a phenomenon referred to as “helper’s high,” resulting in increased energy levels and happiness, and decreased stress and anxiety.
Kindness also releases the hormone oxytocin, which reduces inflammation and protects the heart by dilating blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure and strengthening the heart, both emotionally and physically. Maybe that’s where the adage “you have a big heart” came from.
Likewise, the teachings of Buddha reveal that the simple path to happiness comes from unconditional compassion, or karuna as it’s referred to in Buddhism. True compassion, as Buddha has taught, is not helping others and then seeking praise or fame or glory.
In other words, true compassion is not the form of help where we ask others to repay our kindness or even thank us; it is daily living that is helpful to all, something as simple as conserving water or picking up trash along the roadway, or holding a door open for the person behind you.
Now that society is slowly starting to resemble pre-pandemic life, this may be the perfect time to reach out to friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, strangers through random acts of kindness. When out in public, smile and say hello to people you may pass every day but have never spoken to, or while waiting in line in the grocery store — still socially distanced, of course.
Spring is the perfect time to help an elderly neighbor. Offer to mow their lawn, weed the garden, walk the dog or simply invite them for a cup of tea and a chat. Check on someone who has been going through a tough time. Kindness binds communities.
Building your relationship with others will have a positive effect on your emotional well-being as you take time out from the stressors in your own life and focus on helping others.
A few weeks ago I returned to my car after shopping and found a small rubber ducky tucked into the door handle. A note tag, in the shape of the iconic Jeep grill, dangled from an iridescent purple ribbon. The message read: “Beep Beep, Sweet Jeep. You have been DUCKED by a fellow Jeeper.” And on the reverse side, “Love, J & L.” I may never meet J or L, but I’d be willing to guess that they have a big heart.
Kindness just may be the secret to a happy, healthy life.