Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

April 29, 2013

THE GOOD LIFE: Getting high on kindness

By Louise Gorenflo
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — Researchers have found that kindness is basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable. Doing something kind often results in a helper’s high, which is caused by the body’s release of endorphins, a chemical within the brain that gives us the sensation of pleasure. In return for our kindness, we experience happiness.

So much of our suffering comes from our intense focus on “poor little me.” When we focus on the needs of others, our thinking literally shifts as we take in the larger picture of our life. The more we can include in our experience of life, the less we dote on ourselves.

The health benefits and sense of well-being that follow an act of kindness return for hours or even days whenever the helping act is remembered. Some of these benefits include reduced stress-related health problems, improved social interactions, and decreased feelings of helplessness and depression from feelings of joy and self-worth.

Consider all the ways you can offer kindness to others and begin making a list that you can apply when the time arises. Lots of kindness idea books are available as are lists of how to be kind on the web. But here are a few rules of thumb about doing acts of kindness.

1. The greater the variety of kind acts the better – Committing a wide variety of kind acts has a greater impact than doing the same thing over and over again. If you do the same thing every week, the buzz may wear off, and it may feel more like a chore. The exception is for larger social commitments, such as tutoring or visiting sick neighbors, where regularity is key to the experience.

2. Commit more acts of kindness in a shorter period — One extravagant act of kindness a week may make you happier than many smaller everyday acts.

3. Do something you wouldn’t normally do – Showing kindness in a way you wouldn’t usually do is an important factor. Think of ways to show kindness that isn’t a natural part of your daily life or normal responsibilities.

4. Be mindful of your own mental health — Kindness only works when done freely: no guilt allowed!  Also, there is a difference between wanting to please someone and kindness.

5. Don’t always expect applause — Be aware that recipients of your kindness may not appreciate your kindness – or even express resentment. Be tactful and considerate, as well as kind. 

Kindness is about being considerate and thoughtful of others, and it’s also about living intentionally to incorporate caring and kindness into the community and world we live in. Start displaying more kindness today, not just to benefit others but for your own good. Whatever you do, have it come from the heart and as natural as opening your hand.

May you find what I have reported interesting and something you can use in your life.  I invite you to email me your reactions (lgorenflo@gmail.com.)