This morning I tried something new.
Guided by a friendly voice on an app, I spent 6 minutes picturing the face of a complete stranger and repeating the words “I wish you well, I hope you stay happy. I wish you well, I hope you stay happy.” I randomly picked the face of the man who works at the petrol station I usually go to.
A simple thing. An act of kindness, expecting nothing in return. The most amazing thing happened in that 6 minutes. It left me on a complete high – so much so that I found myself trying to repeat the exercise at various points in the day with different faces in my head.
I realised then that I had experienced a phenomenon that I've recently been reading into – the “Helper's High”. One simple act of kindness starts a chain reaction of delicious hormones and endorphins, scientifically proven to make us feel joy. It's such a real thing, that scientists gave it it's rather enticing nick name. First – the endorphins rush in, producing a small natural high. Next, oxytocin increases. Oxytocin is known as the 'love hormone' because it boosts your sense of connection, love, trust and optimism. Then your serotonin levels increase. This leaves you feeling calm and helps your body to heal. And as if that hormonal cocktail isn't enough, your cortisol levels decrease – so you feel considerably less stress.
'Kind' is a word that I believe has lost it's power over time. A word that disappears into the realms of “nice” and “sweet”. It's a quiet sort of virtue bestowed on people who might lack more charismatic traits. But kindness is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to create a more loving world, and to improve our own.
On a deeper level, kindness helps us achieve one of life's most important goals – connection. Kind acts are outwardly focused; by definition they connect you to the world around you. A meaningful connection to people, animals or the natural world, brings about a sense of enormous well-being. It removes you from your obsession over your own self-narrative and gives your life meaning and purpose.
“The ultimate source of happiness is not money and power, but warm-heartedness” – Dalai Lama
It's been proven over and over again, that being kind makes you happy.
But that's only one side of this fantastically double-edged-lightsaber-of-joy. The real magic comes when you start to spread it. It's like a super beneficial virus. If you are kind, it encourages others to be kind, It gives people hope and taps in to their sense of connection and community. It's powerful, and has the potential to change society. Little old kindness packs a big punch.
How kind do you have to reap the benefits? Studies show that the frequency of your kind acts is a lot more important than the size. Work on doing small regular acts of kindness to best reap the rewards, and sow the seeds of joy.
By now you know I love the idea of forming positive habits, so find a way of working kindness into your routine. Daily would be ideal, but don't let the enormity of a big goal get in the way. How often have you put off writing a long, meaningful email to a friend because you need to find the time to do it? (I do this constantly) Surely a quick, loving note would be better than delaying and eventually forgetting it, for the sake of getting it right.
Weekly? Monthly? Any intentional acts of kindness are better than none. Try to make it fun – you could challenge your friends or colleagues, or involve your children (what a perfect life skill to provide them with).
I have a few ideas you can start with today, but I believe you'll think of things as you go. It becomes quite exciting once you get into it. So, in no particular order.
Give someone a hug.
Leave random positive notes on people's cars.
Stop and talk to a homeless person.
Listen. Really listen.
Do the dishes/laundry/anything when its not your turn.
Secretly pay for the person in the queue behind you's coffee.
Each time you get a new piece of clothing, donate an old one.
Compliment someone to their boss.
Write someone a thank you letter.
Smile at strangers (particularly ones you're annoyed with).
Let people in front of you in the traffic.
Put your phone down.
Give your time to a child, to play a game of their choice.
Say thank you.
Make a meal for a new mum.
Save a bug instead of squishing it.
Secretly clean your colleague's computer screen when they're not there.
Leave picked flowers in people's letter boxes.
Tell your siblings how much you love them.
So that should keep you busy for a while! I'd love to hear about kind acts that you've tried. You should pop over onto Facebook and join the On Joy group. It's a small (but growing!) group of people talking about joy.
Thank you for reading, beautiful joy-seekers!