Published in the March/April 2012 issue of Renew
By Kelsey Allen, Renew editor
Life has never seemed busier: bills to pay, errands to run, problems to solve and recovery to maintain. With all of those nagging responsibilities, it’s hard to remember that a simple smile can truly brighten a day, perhaps even inspire others to do the same. Although it might seem inconsequential, performing acts of kindness — which, yes, even include a smile — not only betters the lives of others but can also improve your life.
The Kindness Cure
Scott H. Lewis speaks to the life-changing ability kindness can have. In the ’90s, Lewis “was becoming progressively more depressed, angry and self-destructive,” he says. To shake off those feelings, Lewis made a radical change and moved from Seattle to Eastern Europe for a fresh start.
“I began to read and think about the role that kindness plays in our lives,” Lewis says. From his research and experiences, Lewis developed the Kindness Cure approach and authored a book by the same name. “First, address the shadows of your past that trouble you. Next, adopt the kindness lifestyle. The book provides a systematic approach that inspires you to think about kindness, to identify opportunities as they arise and to embrace them daily.”
One way to inject more kindness in your everyday life is to take up the habit of performing random acts of kindness. A random act of kindness can be anything from paying for someone in the checkout line behind you to volunteering at a soup kitchen to leaving a bouquet of flowers on your neighbor’s front porch. Lewis says there are several ways to perform random acts of kindness, and no methodology is right or wrong.
“I prefer to act anonymously and without hanging around to accept gratitude or acknowledgement,” Lewis says. “I call this the Lone Ranger approach.”
Another approach involves leaving a note that explains the act. A group called Secret Agent L employs this method. More than 1,800 “Affiliated Agents” spread the message of “Be Kind. No Exceptions.” To learn more about their movement, visit secretagentl.com. Yet another approach Lewis identifies is for those who offer kindness with a card that says, “You’ve been tagged! Pass it on,” as an encouragement to continue spreading kindness.
“All true kindness is equally worthwhile and valid,” Lewis says. “The different approaches reflect different philosophies. Choose the one that works best for you.”
Kick Your Kindness Into Gear
Once you start performing random acts of kindness, Brook Jones, manager of The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, warns it may become contagious. “[Random acts of kindness] can become viral,” Jones says. “Somebody sees you, and it spurs him to do it.”
She recalls a phone call to the foundation from a coffee shop where somebody in line paid for the person behind him and the giving went on for hours. To work kindness into your day, Lewis notes, “Like any new habit, it takes discipline.” He suggests keeping a kindness journal.
“Each week, I review what I did the week before and relive how each act made me feel,” he says. “Find what gives you the greatest reward, and repeat it!”
Start with just one or two acts a week. The uplifting feeling that kindness leaves behind lasts long after the random act has passed.
A New Kind of High
To some skeptics, performing random acts of kindness might seem inconsequential or that the act is too simple to make a lasting impact on either the giver or the recipient. Initially, Jones was a skeptic, but “when I started doing good myself, it seriously changed my life,” she says. “It made me a better person almost instantaneously.”
And there’s proof to back her up. One of the more conclusive studies was performed in 1991 by Allan Luks and is detailed in his book, The Healing Power of Doing Good: The Health and SpiritualBenefits of Helping Others. Luks studied more than 3,000 volunteers and asked them how they felt when they performed a kind act. He found that the volunteers reported “feeling a rush of euphoria, followed by a longer period of calm after performing a kind act.” Luks termed this the “helper’s high.” This high resulted in a decrease in stress and an increase in the release of endorphins.
Additionally, Luks concluded that 57 percent of the volunteers in his study reported an increased sense of self-worth, and 53 percent reported greater happiness and optimism and lower levels of helplessness and depression. Luks also identified “the ills that helping helps,” which is a long list of stress-related health problems that are improved after performing random acts of kindness. These include: obesity, sleeplessness, headaches, depression, colds and flu, asthma, coronary artery disease and cancer.
The remarkable changes in health arise from a combination of factors reported by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation:
- The possibility of strengthening immune-system activity
- A decrease in both the intensity and the awareness of physical pain
- Activation of the emotions which are vital to the maintenance of good health
- Reduction in the incidence of attitudes, such as chronic hostility, which negatively arouse and damage the body
- The multiple benefits to the body’s systems provided by stress relief
“I don’t do kindnesses for others so much as I do them for me,”Lewis says. “It makes me feel good. Kindness isn’t penance, and weshouldn’t give till it hurts. We should, however, give till it feels great!”