Kindness Matters

Historically, we have been much more interested in learning why people do bad things than why they do good. There are countless studies on what makes us feel bad or behave badly, what causes various psychological disorders, even what causes evil….but there has been very little interest in studying the science of happiness.

Fortunately, the pendulum is swinging. Scientists are now turning their attention to the brighter side of life. Goodness, happiness, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, altruism, mindfulness, meditation, prayer…formerly the territory of churches, synagogues, and kitchen tables, are now becoming the subjects of scientific research. And there are no surprises in the findings. Intuitively we already know the answers. Of course altruism is good for us. It makes us feel good. It improves our emotional well-being and we are now learning that it improves our physical well-being as well.

Research indicates that happy people are more generous (generous of spirit, time and money). But also, generosity makes us happier. It is a positive feedback loop that can only lead to better things. It reminds me of a song we used to sing when I was a child:

Love is something if you give it away,

give it away, give it away

Love is something if you give it away

You end up having more.

It’s just like a magic penny.

Hold it tight and you won’t have any.

Lend it, spend it and you’ll have so many,

they’ll roll all over the floor.

For, love is something if you give it away,

give it away, give it away

Love is something if you give it away

You end up having more.

So don’t forget that this is something in your toolkit. I know you are busy. I know you are overwhelmed. I know you can’t possibly add anything else to your plate. But if you practice compassion (genuinely wanting to relieve the suffering of others) and altruism (an act that benefits another person) on a regular basis it will positively impact your well-being. It will help decrease your stress, improve your health and make you feel better. Include your children in the process and it will teach them kindness as well.

You don’t have to devote a lot of time and energy to make a difference to others. A little help can go a long way and you will be modeling positive behavior for your children. Engaging in regular acts of kindness will help your children respond to their own natural instinct to be kind. Here are a few ideas:

  • Let your child pick out a couple of canned goods at the grocery store and drop them in the bins out front for the food bank.
  • Help your child pick out gently used clothes, books or toys from their things and donate them. Talk about the fact that not all children are as lucky as they are.
  • Donate books to the public or school library.
  • Make a pot of soup for a sick friend or relative.
  • Deliver cookies to the fire station or to your school staff.
  • Be kind and friendly to clerks, check-out staff, wait-staff, customer service people.
  • Don’t shield your children from all suffering. When we don’t let them see any suffering in the world we don’t give them the opportunity to develop their empathy and compassion (keep it at a developmentally appropriate level).
  • Help someone load their groceries into their car.
  • Offer to run errands for an elderly neighbor or family member.
  • Offer to spend an afternoon doing house chores for an elderly neighbor or family member.
  • If your child receives allowance help them donate a portion of it to a charity or cause of their choice. See for a guide to help kids choose a charity.
  • Include a charitable donation as part of a Christmas or birthday gift. At you can buy gift cards that can be donated to any non-profit organization. Your recipient can choose the charity. I have included these cards in Christmas stockings.
  • Practice gratitude. Talk about what you are thankful for. Help your children identify what good things happened to them throughout the day. The acts of giving and gracious receiving are closely linked. Help your children participate in both sides of the equation.

So here’s to raising a generation of kind-hearted people!

First Published 2013

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