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“Random” acts of kindness

Being kind to others can put a smile on someone else’s face and makes us happier in turn

05 March 2020, at 9:00am

Mother Teresa once said that “we cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love”.

Whether you think she was deserving of sainthood or possessed by the devil in her later years, the fact remains that she was truly content, she lived to a fantastic age of 87, she felt deeply loved and she had a positive impact on thousands of individuals: things that many of us aspire to.

Contentment, feeling love and affecting people around us in a positive way is totally within our grasp. Just one way we can have a positive influence on people is through performing so-called random acts of kindness on a daily basis as our new normal.

We have the opportunity to show small acts of kindness every day in the simplest of ways:

Letting someone cut in front of you in a traffic jam. And if they thank you, try thanking them for thanking you. Honestly, I’ve started to do that this last year and it feels great. The look of surprise on the other driver’s face is comical, but they drive on happier and so do you.

Stopping to talk with an elderly neighbour, even though you are in a rush.

Lending a helping hand to a co-worker who’s behind on their consults or ops list, even though this means that you will have to stay late at work.

Here’s a good one for Londoners. When you squeeze onto the packed tube with someone’s armpit resting neatly over your face, try, instead of feeling hatred towards your fellow commuters, to make yourself realise that they are actually just like you (stating the obvious). Maybe try to wish them well, happiness and peace; in your thoughts and not out loud. But when you scan the carriage and see the bowed heads of people frantically scanning their phones, avoiding eye contact and not enjoying their journey either, and you feel compassion and kindness towards them, it really can make for a more positive commute and a sense of acceptance and calm within.

Kindness is a trait in people which is often undervalued or seen as being “soft”. Some more cynical people see others who are driven by kindness as “enablers” or “suckers”. This reflects a belief system where success is only achieved through stepping on or ignoring others: a belief system which is rife in the veterinary world. I have yet to meet a truly content cynic.

Maybe us “soft suckers” are perpetuating this belief system by apologising for being a bit happy when we are advocating random acts of kindness towards fellow malodorous commuters instead of unapologetically promoting this behaviour as a route to true contentment.

In 2006, in a study of Japanese undergraduates, researchers Otake et al. found that happy people were kinder than people who were not happy. Which came first? The happiness or the kindness? Or is it a self-perpetuating cycle?

Their study also revealed that one’s sense of happiness increased by the simple act of counting the number of one’s acts of kindness. This is something to do at the end of the day just before sleep.

It’s like the very simple act of helping the little old lady to cross the street. You feel good about yourself and she feels heartfelt gratitude that someone cares and that she had a moment of connection with a kind person today. It’s a win-win situation. Changing our focus and looking around us, we will notice a multitude of opportunities for kindness. From letting someone into the line of traffic and thanking them for thanking you (or at least not hating them for not thanking you), to allowing someone to get off the tube in front of you, to thanking the guy in Starbucks for making your coffee just how you like it, to dropping a thank-you note into the people downstairs who always accept your Amazon parcels for you. It takes no time or intelligence to suss out these opportunities. It provides a wholesome opportunity for releasing a burst of warm endorphins; the rewards are instant and last for as long as we decide. It’s a cheap and healthy high.

When you are kind to others, having that awareness then heightens the sense of your own good fortune. Also, random acts of kindness promote empathy and compassion; in turn, these lead to a sense of interconnectedness with others, which is vital for good mental well-being. Feeling connected brings us together rather than divides us. Kindness is potent in strengthening a sense of community and belonging. Interestingly, the simple witnessing of others being kind can release similar levels of serotonin that engaging in an act of kindness can produce.

References
Author Year Title
Kerr, S. L., O’Donovan, A. and Pepping, C. A. 2015 Can gratitude and kindness interventions enhance well-being in a clinical sample? Journal of Happiness Studies, 16, 17-36
Otake, K., Shimai, S., Tanaka-Matsumi, J., Otsui, K. and Fredrickson, B. L. 2006 Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 361-375

Laura Woodward Counselling

Laura Woodward has been the surgeon at Village Vet Hampstead for over 10 years. Laura is also a qualified therapeutic counsellor and is affiliated with the ACPNL and the ISPC. She runs Laurawoodward.co.uk – a counselling service for vets and nurses.

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