Growing up in Southern California, my dad, an actor, hosted a television show on ABC called “The Girl in My Life.” One critic called the show a “schmaltzfest…rewarding women nominated by viewers as worthy of receiving prizes and the national spotlight.” Though I was only five or six years old when it aired, I went to many live tapings and have often thought about the impact it made on those women’s lives. What has stuck with me all of these years is how acts of kindness, no matter how big or small, can have an extraordinary impact on our lives.
There is this idea of “emotional contagion.” You may have seen the bumper sticker, “Create Random Acts of Kindness.” Doesn’t it make you smile? Did you know that when we demonstrate acts of kindness, it actually changes our physiology? Perhaps more impressive is that when others witness our demonstration of kindness, it actually impacts their physiology as well. Oh, and it changes the physiology of those on the receiving end, too.
As much as I adore those bumper stickers, kindness is rarely random. I’m challenging all of us to create “Intentional Acts of Kindness.” Schedule it into your day like it’s your most important meeting—a meeting of your heart with the world around you. Vitamin K(indness) is powerful medicine.
Whether we are the givers or receivers of a kindness bomb, there are numerous health benefits. From life satisfaction to reduced anxiety and depression, kind people are happier people. Kind acts, given, received or witnessed, can trigger the release of oxytocin, the “love” hormone. Oxytocin acts as a cardioprotectant in the body, lowering blood pressure, and acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, helping to decrease anxiety. Kindness also stimulates the production of serotonin, another neurotransmitter, which helps us feel happier, more confident, calm and relaxed.
May, and of course Mother’s Day, offers favorable conditions to exercise kindness, especially if you’ve been a bit on the cranky side lately. It’s warming up, the sun is shining and there is a lot of good to be given (and received). Whether you wish to acknowledge your own mother, mother-in-law, stepmother, wife, sister, daughter, grandmother, friend or mother-like presence in your life, the opportunity awaits.
When we show up as kindness in action, we are in vertical alignment with our heart and mind, and we open ourselves up for allowing untold greatness to unfold in and around us. With that we can create a network of healing. I’d like to offer some schmaltzfest-inspired ideas for acts of intentional kindness:
- Create a music CD of your favorite tunes or tunes that remind you of the person you are sharing it with—perhaps they need encouragement, peace of mind or a great new playlist for long runs. Music feeds the heart and soul.
- Create a culinary herb garden—either in a windowsill pot or outdoor container—and gift your co-worker, teacher or neighbor.
- Volunteer at a senior center where residents may not receive many visitors. Smile often and hug frequently.
- Write a letter of gratitude and appreciation to a family member who has always been there for you.
- For one entire day, refrain from complaining. Speak only words of kindness and compassion to yourself and others, positive comments only.
- Take your mom (or anyone you would like to treat) to lunch and give as generous a tip as you can afford.
- If you have aging parents or grandparents, visit them often or at least call them once a week.
- The next time you buy a Kombucha drink or bar of organic dark chocolate, pick up a few extra so that you can share with a friend or stranger.
- Babysit or pet-sit for a friend in need.
- Make eye contact and smile at people on the street, at the red light, in the post office, in the grocery store, and yes, even at the DMV.
Dr. Debra Rouse is a Licensed Naturopathic Doctor and member of the Institute for Functional Medicine. She is a dedicated mother of two daughters, a passionate outdoor enthusiast, tennis player, and advocate and activist against human trafficking. Learn more about her at drdebrarouse.com.