Kindness: the new contagion?

Thinkstock / models for illustrative purposes only

Today’s blog is by Assistant District Manager, Melvyn Howe.

“Kindness”, a wizened Indian yogi once told me, “is the surrendering of your wants so you can give of yourself”.

I have often pondered these 13 words in the decades since. So simple, and yet they point to a power that might bring much healing to the world.

Best-selling author Dr Wayne Dwyer’s put it this way: “Kindness extended, received, or observed beneficially impacts the physical health and feelings of everyone involved!”

That’s quite a concept – kindness being a recipe for good health.

How does it work?

Certainly, when we selflessly give of ourselves, we are looking outwards.

Then we are no longer bounded by the narrow confines of an existence defined by a headlong rush for more money, the latest car, the best holiday and the most modern gadgetry.

In my experience the changed thought that results can send a message of well-being throughout the whole system.

The medical profession increasingly recognises the role thought plays in the recovery of the sick.

Allan Luks, one-time executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of Health, carried out an extensive study into the benefits of being kind. He and writer Peggy Payne then published the findings in “The Healing Power of Doing Good”.

Luks asked more than 3,000 people about how expressing kindness benefited them. Many told him they felt healthier and spoke of a “helper’s high”, that reduced stress and left them with a sense of emotional well-being.

In addition there were reports of insomnia improving, the immune system becoming stronger and surgery recovery times shortening.

“Helping contributes to the maintenance of good health, and it can diminish the effect of diseases and disorders both serious and minor, psychological and physical,” said the researcher.

His study is some two decades old. However, the dynamic of kindness does not seem to have changed.

Writing last year in Psychology Today, sociologist and “happiness expert” Dr Christine Carter said: “People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease.”

She added: “Experiments have actually demonstrated again and again that kindness toward others actually causes us to be happier, improves our health, and lengthens our lives.”

So just how prevalent is kindness today? More than you might be led to believe if you allow the “shock horror” brand of newspaper headlines to be your thermometer for society’s health.

Consider the Tube, a mode of transport many might think to be the crucible of impatience, replete with strap-hanging commutes, frayed tempers and clammy, sardine-like conditions. If that wasn’t bad enough everyone seems to be wearing taciturn expressions that futilely scream: “Don’t invade my space!”

However, there are refreshing outbreaks of man’s humanity to man emerging from deep beneath the capital’s streets.

Stories have come to light of commuters bursting the travel tension by:

  • blowing bubbles
  • consoling a broken-hearted teenager
  • going out of their way to return a mobile phone
  • retrieving a lost balloon for a little boy.

These are now part of an art project at stations and on trains celebrating the “value” of kindness. It has been created by artist Michael Landy, who said: “Sometimes we tend to assume that you have to be superhuman to be kind, rather than just an ordinary person.”

He then added: “Once you start to notice kindness you see it happening more and more.”

That is my experience.

When I began travelling the Tube I was shocked how unfriendly and glum everyone appeared. I eventually realised that was a superficial impression and that instead I could aspire – as Saint Vincent de Paul puts it – to “judge persons and things in the most favorable light at all times and under all circumstances”.

I made a conscious decision to look for the good in those around me, and soon found a considerable fund of unprompted friendliness and kindness between strangers.

I particularly remember an elderly lady leaving her Central Line train at a semi-trot to return a wallet dropped by a departing commuter. Another passenger then held open the closing doors so she could safely return to her seat. Much to her obvious embarrassment she was then roundly applauded by fellow travellers.

Watching this unfold made me feel happy.

A recent survey helped me understand why.  It involved people helping others after themselves watching something inspirational, pointing to kindness being “contagious”.

“Human nature is essentially good,” Cambridge academic and the study’s lead researcher Dr Simone Schnall was quoted saying in a Science in Society article.

“And this study proves that seeing good things actually makes us better.”

Certainly such incidents are not just random acts by people who “got out of the right side of bed” that morning.

They were expressing something which I like to think is innately natural and freely available to all of us, a quality which has a divine source.

3 thoughts

  1. Thank you so much Melvin and Tony. I hope you don’t mind if I share these wonderful thoughts with the Chaplains from The Royal Brompton Hospital and The Royal Marsden Hospital?
    With loving wishes,
    Angie Wallace
    volunteer Chaplain


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