Kindness: a contagious disease
By Rebecca Unger MD
The quality of being friendly, generous and considerate*
The signs and symptoms of this condition include an increased level of happiness, an increased sense of wellbeing, improved relationships and improved communication about concerns of relationships. Be careful! This is a very contagious condition. There may even be some inherited tendencies.
Why does this matter? Because the science behind helping others--or “moral elevation”--supports that acts of kindness increase happiness and wellbeing.
Taking part in acts of kindness results not only in psychosocial benefits, but also in actual positive physiologic changes. This may be due to changes in brain function and circuitry. While committing acts of kindness, there is increased frontal cortex activity that creates neural pathways as well as an increased flow of mood elevating hormones and neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and endorphins.
Perhaps even more surprising, consistent acts of kindness may result in increased health and longevity. Studies show that both the persons performing and receiving the acts of kindness benefit, although the pattern of benefits differ. There may be a decrease in blood pressure, less depression, less stress and even an increase in longevity in people who provide social support to others. That is effective medicine!
What’s more, kindness is contagious. When people observe others performing acts of kindness they are often inspired to reach out and do something for others themselves. Even Thomas Jefferson in 1771 noted the phenomenon when he wrote to a colleague,“ When any original act of charity or of gratitude, for instance, is presented either to our sight or imagination, we are deeply impressed with its beauty and feel a strong desire in ourselves of doing charitable and grateful acts also.”
Infants and young children have an innate tendency towards kindness. Children generally enjoy helping others and it makes them happy to be kind. As children get older, their trusting instinct towards kindness is influenced by learned behaviors and cultural experiences. These group experiences influence behaviors of generosity and collaboration. Parental role modeling, as well as community and cultural experiences can continue to promote the instinct to be kind.
Kindness and gratitude heal our world, one act at a time. How do we develop, promote and sustain this tendency in our children?
*English Oxford Living Dictionary
** T.O.P. (Treat Other People) coupon circa 1995, designed by Emily and Joey’s mom (Dr Rebecca Unger).
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