Kindness Can Lengthen Lives, Increase Happiness and Improve Community
Stuart Muszynski and Shelly Senders, MD
February is National Random Acts of Kindness Month. Here are some reasons why incorporating kindness as part of your daily existence makes practical sense and is something you should do every day.
Some people are naturally kind. They have buoyant and gracious personalities -- we want to be around them. Others have to work at kindness. For these people, kindness is a chosen value, one that takes effort and practice. And like other values including the Golden Rule, Hospitality, Charity and Giving Back, values guide behaviors and makes us who we are. If the mind is the human computer, values are the operating system. Kindness, then, becomes a significant piece of software.
We know that many people view kindness with skepticism. They think that all we’re seeking is for people to sit around the campfire singing “Kumbaya”. Others view it suspiciously, assuming that there is some hidden agenda. For us, however, there is no hidden agenda. There are very real medical, social and behavioral reasons to make kindness a regular part of your life.
We come to kindness from two different perspectives. Stuart, who runs Values-in-Action Foundation, has been promoting kindness through the Project Love®character-education program in schools. Shelly, a pediatrician, has been “prescribing” kindness to his patients. Both of us have seen significant transformations — in schools, in children and their families, and in society as a whole.
The medical benefits of kindness are well-documented. In studies done at the Oxford University, kindness increased endorphins (happy hormones) in the brain, improved happiness and contentment with life and reduced pain. An article in Scientific American reported that one act of kindness increased happy brain chemistry in three people — the doer of kindness, the receiver of kindness and the observer of kindness. In similar studies at Stanford University, researchers found that practicing kindness produced a viral effect serving as a “positive virus” that can be contagious. One act of kindness starts a “pay it forward” chain reaction that goes from person to person to person.
Researchers at Dartmouth College found that people who practiced kindness produced 23% less cortisol
(stress hormone), which has the potential to reduce aging and extend life. Two long-term studies begun in the 1920s, one in nuns and the other in adolescents, found that those who identified with compassion and generosity early in life were much more likely to be alive 50-plus years later. Teaching our children to practice kindness may be more important to them than lecturing them about exercise, healthy eating and getting sufficient sleep.
Kindness not only has health benefits. It is also beneficial in the workplace. In a study done at the University of California, when “givers”, people tasked with the responsibility to show specific forms of kindness, were seeded in the workplace, there was increased productivity, creativity, employee engagement and inclusivity.
Here are some of our personal experiences and findings. At Cleveland’s John Adams High School, which had long been known as one of the city’s most troubled high schools, the intentional, daily practice of kindness and core values through the Project Love program over the last two years have resulted in a 42% increase in the 12th-grade graduation rate, a 72% decrease in suspensions, complete elimination of in-school gang violence and zero fights. In Copley-Fairlawn Middle School, which has an annual Project Love “Power of Kindness” workshop for all sixth graders, bullying has appreciably decreased.
In the Senders Pediatric practice in South Euclid, we have long-promoted kindness as a means of preventing and treating adolescent anxiety disorders. Getting adolescents to engage in just one volunteer activity a week reduces anxiety scores by 30%. And writing down three kind things you do each day for just a week, leaves teenagers feeling happier and less stressed, an effect that persists for up to six months. We are about to begin distributing “Be The Change Kindness Cards” at well visits in children ages 3-11 years in an attempt to “immunize” them against the ravages of depression and anxiety.
Mr. Rogers once said that “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to Be Kind, The second way is to Be Kind, The third way is to Be Kind.” The answer to the lack of empathy and growth of negativity in our world today is the promotion of kindness -- in our community, in our country and in the world. It may be just what the doctor prescribed!
Note to parents: Put on your calendar to bring your children to the annual Community Kindness Day at Beachwood High School on April 26th from 1-4 pm, where students and organizations engaged in promoting kindness will be networking to enhance the kindness temperature of our community. There will be activities for children, opportunities to engage and information for parents. To enroll your school in Project Love’s Be Kind® Stick Together®anti-bullying program, go to www.viafdn.org/stick-together.
Dr. Shelly Senders is the CEO of Senders Pediatrics, an independent pediatric practice in South Euclid, Ohio that cares for children, adolescents and young adults from birth to age 24.
Stuart Muszynski is President and CEO of Values-in-Action Foundation, a character education and social-emotional learning non-profit organization based in Mayfield Village, Ohio, serving 2,500 K-12 schools in all 50 states.