The Big Idea
We are social creature that have actually evolved to benefit from doing acts of kindness for each other – for others in our tribe or species. When we give, we can actually receive almost more than we give away in the process. So much so that studies suggest that if you give regularly by regularly volunteering or giving though benevolent acts, you could reduce your chances of dying by almost a half! Not only that but research points if you give frequently, you are much likelier to be happier and have more stable social relationships, which in turn usually again and again. So this is kind of a positive feedback loop, that keeps on giving back – literally!
We all know the warm fuzzy feeling we get from giving things away, even if it’s as small as a cheery wave to someone, the really interesting thing seems to be that the more mindful we can be of our generosity, no matter how small the acts, the more we get tuned into this ‘mindset’. So we asked positive psychology expert Jen Rolfe to come and share her knowledge and insights. That’s right, the affects of positivity are so well recognised in science terms, that this branch of psychology has it’s own term: positive psychology.
What seems to be important is the nature of the giving part, namely to give without the expectation of receiving or for the very sake of just being able to give as our DigitalJen says “to pass it on”. This makes for the ‘random’ part of random acts of kindness also called RAK. We asked Jen to share some of her examples of random acts of in action and although not everyone will get what we are doing, she encourages us that we can be agents of change, to have a ripple affect on the World, to be the change we want to see in the World (#bethechange), where we pass it on like rebel ninjas or ‘RAKtivists’. Dr Iain also suggests that the more mindful (intentional) we can be with what we are doing here, the more likely we are to receive the positive affects and mindset shift as our brain circuits are more effectively ‘tuned into’ changing for the better. So how about Mindful Acts of Kindness (MAKs) or Mindful Random Acts of Kindness (MRAKs)?
Got it…What’s the Science
Random acts of kindness as being good for you is one of those ancient bits of wisdom that has been passed down to us through wise people in our family and through ancient texts such as the Bible. Like all true true wisdom there is some science or science based knowledge that can explain why it works. For regular readers of The 52 Project this includes some familiar neurochemicals released in our brains.
One of the key chemicals released when we perform an act fo kindness is oxytocin. Oxytocin is the ‘love hormone’ that helps us have a connection with others. The release of oxytocin is known to also lead to the release of nitric oxide (NO), which we have come across in #Tip14, that causes vasodilation (our blood vessels to expand). This reduces our blood pressure, making us feel calmer as well as giving us a healthier flush to our cheeks. Modest flushed or rosey cheeks are known to make you look more attractive, hence the use of blusher in make-up, which in turn makes us seem more attractive to others. The reduced effect of lower blood pressure, as well as reduction in the stress hormone cortisol, is also likely to reduce the strain on your cardiovascular system which means it can operate longer and so give you longer life. So already giving though random acts of kindness should make you both healthier and more attractive. Not bad!
So giving of yourself for others can help protect your heart literally – as it is a protective factor against heart disease. A study found that people who are 55 years or older and volunteer (regularly), have their chances of dying early cut almost in half – by 44%. The study suggest that this is a stronger effect than exercising 4 times a week or going to church.
Other benefits of giving are the increased sense of wellbeing and lower likelihood of depression. This is because we know that giving also leads to the release of serotonin (also called 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5HT), that lifts our mood. Many anti-depressants work by increasing the length of time serotonin is ‘free’ in the brain between synapses (the gaps between neurones) so that the effects of serotonin are increased. So perhaps it is unsurprising then that giving leads to protective effects against depression. In fact most most people report feeling good, even euphoric, after freely giving of their time or money. This might explain why around 20% of money given by 1st World countries is to good causes to which the givers do not expect a financial return or ‘see’ the impact directly. Interestingly, again, the giver receives biologically from the process of giving. Work down by people like Dr Oliver Curry, an anthropologist at Oxford University, suggests this is not unique to humans, but the ability to give across tribes (packs or herds) as well as different species seems to be more developed in humans than other animals. Dr Curry is also the research director for Kindlab, at kindness.org. This explains why when we perform random acts of kindness for other animals, even for the environment, we can get and feel the benefit too.
The other thing is that random acts of kindness are not always an in the moment ‘fluffy’ thing. Think about it: do you think that those that donate their organs, stem cells or blood to unknown recipients just do it for that fuzzing feeling? Research using brain imaging suggests that we humans use parts of our higher logical thinking brain (the prefrontal cortex – PFC) when performing and thinking of acts of kindness. This means we can be deliberate and intentional in our kindness and this has some even bigger consequences for us.
We know that we make habits by practicing circuits in our brain – this is neuroplasticity which we have spoken a lot about already on The52Project. We have also spoken about how being deliberate (intentional) and taking notice can make a big difference in our brain and habits (e.g. #Tip8, #Tip11, #Tip19) – making them far more likely to happen and become a positive habit. So we suggest that Mindful Acts of Kindness (MAKs) are the very best way of experiencing and instilling positive change for yourself and for others – to ripple out into the Universe – to change our world, for us to be the change we would like, actually need, in our World.
And if that wasn’t enough we know that other neurochemicals including endorphins, our natural pain killers, as well as possibly immune system benefits mean that deliberately being kind could be the very best thing you could do for yourself and others. So what MAK are you going to do for someone today?
Watch our #Tip26 on the Instagram Live Recording….
With special guest and expert positive psychologist, in the field literally, Jen Rolfe:
Random Acts of Kindness Foundation – “make kindness the norm”
Kindlab – “kindness is the key to a better World”
BOOK: Raising Happiness: In Pursuit of Joyful Kids and Happier Parents by Christine Carter
The Science of Kindness by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation
Why Random Acts of Kindness Matter by Steve Emery
A UNESCO summary of Neuroscience of Kindness by Dr Zoran Josipovic
Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex is Critical for Helping Others Who Are Suffering (2018) a research paper.
Neural basis of extraordinary empathy and altruistic motivation (2010) research paper.
The warm glow of kindness is real – University of Sussex metastudy confirms (2018)
Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor (2018) review paper.
Kindness Health Facts – online article
The Competitive Advantage of Corporate Philanthropy (2002) – Harvard Business review article
For any Morgan Freeman or Steve Carrell fans – the family film ‘Evan Almighty’ touches on Acts of Random Kindness – ARKs.
The positive impact on ourselves and on others, without the need for spend anything other than a few moments at a time, leaves us thinking that this is really another no-brainer. I mean what have you got to lose trying this one? Also we cannot help but feel this could be a really super stacking top #Tip.
Here are some more tips from our guest, positive psychologist and founding director of Practically Positive, Jen Rolfe:
- Consider the whole kindness spectrum: to yourself, to others (that you know & love), to strangers, to wider communities, to the World – as in every increasing circles (the ripple affect).
- Create a kindness habit in a context you’re in regularly e.g. thanking your regular check out person / getting to know your post person. A related idea is something that Jen practices with her daughter where they say “I hope you get better soon” when they see an ambulance go past – this can easily link with appropriately saying “thank you” to those that help us , even when it is their job to do so (a very easy subset of Random Acts of Kindness).
- Be a RAKtivist (term borrowed from RAK website). Praising acts of kindness is probably the easiest way to get them repeated AND it’s an act of kindness in itself. Don’t be embarrassed – make a fuss of the positive!
We would love to hear your stories of MAKs. For inspiration you can also check out https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas and https://positivepsychology.com/random-acts-kindness
Here are some of our ideas:
- Buy a cuppa for the person behind you in a queue.
- Leave the change in kiosk or vending machine.
- Give someone your trolley and don’t ask for the deposit.
- Going into a pay at the gate parking, toll or onto a bus – also pay for the person behind you.
- Clear the leaves or snow from someone else’s path.
- Offer to open the door for others.
- Leave a chocolate treat or positive note for someone on their desk.
- Place a post-it note on someone’s windscreen, readable from the inside, saying “good job parking – you’ve totally got today!”
- Leave flowers or a box of chocolates and / or a note of thanks at your local doctors’ surgery.
- Make a card and display it in your front door window or postbox thanking the person for delivering your post.
Random Acts of Kindness Day is 17th February – just think its a few days after sending love to the one who matters most to you, you can send love to others too… World Kindness Day is also on 13th November and Thank You Day in the UK is on 4th July.
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