THE WAYS AND WHYS OF BEING KIND!

While on a flight from San Diego to Atlanta, I was awoken from a spotty nap by the sharp cries of a small baby. As someone who flies quite often, the sound was surprising but not devastating. I thought to myself, “poor child, this much be such a difficult trip for that kid and that mom; after all, I’m an adult traveling alone and I’m pretty exhausted myself.”

The woman seated in the row in front of the baby, saw the situation very differently. I inferred this after hearing the child’s mother scream at the woman, “I’m traveling with two children, by myself and I’m doing the best I can so I apologize but I don’t know what you want from me.” The pitch of her cry for help far outweighed the cry of the baby. Finding it impossible to ignore, most of the plane turned toward them. Some with looks of shock, others with sympathy and still others who looked annoyed. Then, something beautiful happened. The woman across the aisle from me, stood up, went back to where the scene was occurring and offered to switch seats with the disgruntled passenger. Then she grabbed the baby, who was standing up in the middle seat, while leaning her body into the mother who was crying hysterically from fatigue and helplessness, one can only imagine. The mother, who was sobbing by this point, hugged this woman’s hips fiercely as if to say, “thank you for offering me some relief.”

The “disgruntled passenger” who had in fact, made a nasty comment about the child’s cries, now refused to switch seats. The kind woman who had gone to check on it all returned to her place across from me. I asked if all was well and she proceeded to explain that the baby’s father had just been deployed and the family was being relocated. The mother was overwhelmed and just needing some kind and loving support.

With everything much calmer, I got to thinking about what I had just witnessed… How different would things be if we were all just a little kinder?

That question, I found, had some very exciting answers. We would all:

1. Inspire others - “Kindness is contagious, according to a study done by researchers at University of California, Los Angeles, and University of Cambridge and University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom. When we see someone else help another person it gives us a good feeling, which in turn causes us to go out and do something altruistic ourselves, the study found, which was the first of its kind to systematically document this tendency in human nature.”[1]

2. Be happier - “According to research from Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up, as if you were the recipient of the good deed—not the giver. This phenomenon is called the “helper’s high.” Like most medical antidepressants, kindness stimulates the production of serotonin. This feel-good chemical heals your wounds, calms you down, and makes you happy!”[2]

3. Live longer - "Studies of telomeres -- the end-caps of our genes -- show that long-term stress can shorten those end-caps, and shortened end-caps are linked with early death…These studies indicate that we're dealing with something that's extremely powerful. Ultimately, the process of cultivating a positive emotional state through pro-social behaviors -- being generous -- may lengthen your life." [3]

The benefits of compassionate, loving kindness are irrefutable. Yet, on most days, with our high levels of stress, it seems like even the bare minimum of human decency has become a chore for most. Rates of stress are on a steady rise with money and work giving way to family responsibilities as the top stressor.[4] With this constant state of tension, it can be difficult to take a breath, put ourselves in another person’s shoes and give that person a moment of kind attention. So, what do we do?

That’s a good question. Here are some simple, yet effective ways to be compassionate, considerate and kind:

1. …to yourself. Self-judgment and criticism are severe sources of anger and rage. So, when you think something unkind about yourself, pause and reflect on the many things you’ve accomplished (even if it is just getting out of bed that morning to take on the day).

2. …to your loved ones. The people that we love are often the ones that trigger us the most, that offend us the deepest and that feel the hardest to forgive. However, sometimes the kindest thing that we can do, for them and for us, is to forgive their transgressions. This does not mean putting yourself back into their line of fire, but it does mean that you stop holding yourself and them hostage to their past offenses.

3. …to a colleague. Work can be a stressful place and one in which it seems easy to get caught up in deadlines and competition. Just a simple smile with eye contact can serve to shift the energy. Try asking “how are you today,” and actually waiting for a reply. A simple gesture like bringing a snack to share or taking a breath before responding to anything, can make someone feel seen, heard and supported.

4. …to a stranger. I like to buy a drink for the person in line behind me at the coffee shop. It’s inexpensive and quick and can make such a difference in someone’s mood. You can also try donating to a cause that’s dear to you and help its beneficiaries. They may not see your face, but they will certainly know your heart.

5. …to this planet. Take an afternoon to plant a tree that will help improve our air quality. Be mindful of the resources you use. Support eco-conscious companies and recycle when you can. Those are just a few of many things that you can do to help sustain our world.

Kindness is not always the easy choice, but it’s benefits are undeniable and its power is immeasurable. So, the next time you find yourself cursing the car in front of you or staring angrily at someone you think is cutting you in line, remember to try to be kind. Sometimes a baby’s cry, is an adult’s cry for help.

References:

[1] Mehner, S. (2010, April 21). Kindness Is Contagious, New Study Finds. Retrieved October 22, 2017, from https://helix.northwestern.edu/article/kindness-contagious-new-study-finds

[2] The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. (n.d.). Kindness Health Facts. Retrieved October 22, 2017, from https://www.dartmouth.edu/wellness/emotional/rakhealthfacts.pdf

[3] Davis, J. L. (n.d.). The Science of Good Deeds. Retrieved October 22, 2017, from https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/science-good-deeds#2

[4] American Psychological Association. (n.d.). 2015 Stress in America. Retrieved October 22, 2017, from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/snapshot.aspx

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