It's kindness week at our sweet Catholic School where my kids are lucky enough to go to (in person I might add). While the COVID/school debate is not one I will launch into on this forum, I will say we will feel really blessed to be at such a wonderful school that has proven it can bring children back safely in person/5 days a week/for a full day.
This week the K-8th graders are focused on learning about and celebrating kindness, and the benefits that it can bring to others around us, and the positive impact it has on our brains. According to research from Emory University when you are kind to another person, your brain's pleasure and reward centers light up, a phenomenon known as the "helper's high." This term was coined in the late 1980's after reports began to surface of feelings of elation, exhilaration, and increased energy following selfless acts towards others. Turns out, these weren't just feelings, but an actual physiological change in the body. Through biochemical analysis, researchers revealed that the "high" is accompanied by positive changes in the body's immune function and a lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Read more on the "helpers high" research here.
Other health benefits of kindness include increased levels of oxytocin (the love hormone) and serotonin (the mood hormone), which is linked to increased heart health and a reduction in depressive behavior. Christine Carter, Ph.D, author of Raising Happiness, writes "people 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 55% lower likelihood of dying early, and that's after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, martial status, and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church." That's a pretty astounding data point and conclusion when you think about it!
Dartmouth University posts these kindness health facts which states kindness is teachable and is contagious. Anecdotally, I can tell you this week, after 5 days of activities in school around the theme of "spreading kindness," the moods in my house have been noticeably happier. They are excited to talk about their day, and the different acts of kindness they have witnessed, and my 9 yr old even left all of us "love notes" on our pillows last night. I'd call that win.
With social media and the 24/7 news cycle the world can feel very negative, and the media's obsession with highlighting "the bad" to generate clicks, can also affect people on a day to day level to the point where being kind may not come natural, or can feel hard. What would the world look and feel like if the media only covered positive and more uplifting stories? It would be a great experiment.
So if you are in a negative funk or feeling angry at the world, try to add more kindness into your day and see what happens. The science has proven it can really make a difference. Start small...smile and wave at someone when you normally wouldn't, or hold the door open for a stranger. Although we may be apart right now due to the pandemic, it doesn't mean we can't connect with our communities. Whether it's making masks or making extra food there are plenty of ways to spread kindness during these difficult times.
"Kindness is firm and persevering intention to always will the good of others, even the unfriendly.” - Pope Francis
Kindness Book Recommendations
Have You Filled Your Bucket Today by Carol McCloud (ages 4-8)
Because of Mr Terupt by Rob Buyea (ages 8-12)
Jackpot by Nick Tone (teens)
The War For Kindness, Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki (adults)