Surprising research on the many benefits of kindness
It was one of those days. You know, when the first sound you hear in the morning causes you to cringe…
And it generally gets worse from there.
Yeah, that was exactly how this day started. Kids were a mess. Throwing things. Tantruming. Complaining. Fighting with each other, me, and their mom. Let the chaos begin!
That was the fateful Tuesday. It began harmlessly enough. A two year old whining that he only wanted his dark blue bottle. Not his light blue one, or yellow, or red, or green, or any of the 200 other kids bottles that litter what used to be a normal kitchen with adult cups in the cabinet.
Did I mention it seemed harmless enough?!
Then it happened.
The milk spilled.
I should have seen it coming. You know, that first sound I mentioned before? That was me whining about being tired and my back hurting. So my patience was a bit less than it would normally be.
Like any self-respecting father would do when their small kid spills something – I did nothing. I didn’t even bat an eyelash. He’s two, what else can I really expect at this stage, right? I calmly told him to get a cloth and clean it up. He’s responsible, and we always clean up our messes.
As an aside – I’d just been watching some parenting courses from AhaParenting.com (Dr. Laura Markham) and felt relatively capable this morning, despite my weakened state. And that phrase? Well it was taken directly from her guidance, so it had to work, right?!
Yeah, you’re right – it didn’t. He just cried harder. And then decided it was time to start taking out his frustration on everyone and everything around him.
Anyone else been there?
Let’s just say, it was hard to turn that moment around, let alone keep the twin 5 year old's focused, get them dressed, fed breakfast, teeth brushed, and then out the door for school in one piece over the next hour. And I was just the passenger on this ride. My wife was handling most of the heavy lifting (God bless her). But, I was definitely collateral damage (channel the Arny voice here…)
By 8am, my nerves were fried, my back pulsing, my head throbbing, and my mind racing – mostly about how angry and frustrated I was that we couldn’t for the life of us find a way to simply have a nice morning and get ourselves and three kids dressed, fed, and out the door in one piece.
By the time I finally left for work, my mood could be classified as….grumpy. I normally stew in these moments, and find it very hard to overcome the feelings of frustration, even if I’ve had a good ride to work. This morning had to be different. I needed something extra.
And that’s when I made a choice that surprised me.
I hit the Tim Horton’s drive through. Hoo Rah for caffeine! No, just kidding….but I did hit the Tim’s drive through.
In that moment, I chose to pay for the person behind me.
No big deal. Turns out they only ordered a coffee. Cost me a whopping $1.67.
What happened next is what changed me. I smiled. I made someone else smile. I asked the servers to tell the person behind me to have a good day. And I told them I hope they had a good day, and drove away.
While I drove, I began to think about what happened. As I reflected, I found the simple act of choosing to show kindness to others lifted my grumpiness.
Reflecting on my sudden shift, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the past 90 minutes of hell (ok, maybe a bit exaggerated, but it was pretty bad) just melted away in the face of such a …simple act of kindness.
Was it really that simple? Could doing a small act of kindness for someone else really change my mood? Or was it chance, or that I wasn’t that upset, or that I really shouldn’t have been that upset…? I didn’t know, but I wanted to validate my experience by looking into research on acts of kindness. Not surprisingly, there is a lot that researchers have found and it tells a compelling story. Turns out there are more benefits than just mood! Here is what kindness does, according to research:
Kindness is linked to happiness…and happiness is linked to showing more kindness
Kindness is good for your heart, slows ageing, improves relationships, and is contagious!
There is a very clear scientific rationale for my seemingly innocent attempt to overcome being grumpy. The ‘random act of kindness’ was the key.
But how do I maximize this now? Where can I supplement these findings to enhance my faith, fitness, and relationships? First thing that comes to mind is conflict at home – whether with the kids or my wife.
What would happen if I chose to show kindness instead of frustration, disappointment, or anger? Would the hits of ‘dopamine’ and serotonin kick in and help me through it?
I really don’t know. But I’m willing to try. I want to see what would happen if I found a way to make my habitual response kindness – regardless of what’s going on around me. Even if the benefits were only for me, as research proves, that would be worth it. But knowing the overall impact and value it could have for others, especially my family when they see it modeled, then showing kindness is the simplest and most effective way that I know to live intentionally, and lead with purpose.
How do you find ways to insert kindness when your natural reaction might be something else?
What difference has it made for you?
I’d love to hear your stories, so please join the conversation and share your wisdom!