By Dr. Elia Gourgouris and Kon Apostolopoulos

A few weeks ago, we were exiting a drive-through on a cold morning. We had grabbed some coffee and breakfast sandwiches and were on our way to our next appointment. We were stopped at the traffic light and waiting for the light to change. Ahead of us was a man holding a sign that asked for some help and kindness. He was shivering in the cold and had a far-away stare that made him appear lost in his thoughts. I felt the need to offer some help, so I grabbed the change I had and rolled down my window calling to him. The act seemed to snap him out of his thoughts, and he rushed over to take my small offering with a big smile and a mumbled “Bless you”. I couldn’t help but smile as well as we drove away.

As we rummaged through the food bag, we realized we were missing some items, and decided to go back. All this time, I couldn’t shake the odd feeling I had and the image of the man on the corner. Did I do enough to help him? Could I have done more? As we entered the drive through for a second time, I ordered an extra coffee and a breakfast sandwich. This time we went straight to the corner and approached the man standing in the same spot. I wasn’t sure if he recognized us, but his face lit up when he saw the hot coffee and food. This time the smile was twice as big!

Driving away, I’m not sure who was happier and more fulfilled by this exchange, the man or I? The receiver or the giver?

Is it the Receiver?

What is the typical impact to the person receiving kindness? Can a kind gesture or word bring someone back from the brink of despair? Can it give someone hope to keep going, to continue to fight for a better tomorrow? What if it can restore our belief in the goodness of humanity, help us feel more connected, less isolated, and feel like we matter because someone cared enough to help without expecting anything in return.

As Daniel Fessler, Director at UCLA’s Bedari Kindness Institute so eloquently put it:

Kindness is “the thoughts, feelings and beliefs associated with actions intending to benefit others, where benefiting others is an end in itself, not a means to an end”.

Daniel Fessler, Director at UCLA’s Bedari Kindness Institute

It’s not uncommon for people that have very little themselves, to give generously to others. Perhaps knowing what it feels like to be deprived or in a desperate situation allows them to be more empathetic towards another – even to a stranger. Perhaps it’s a need to pay it forward, because they received kindness from someone in the past.

Photo by GLady on Pixabay

Is it the Giver?

We understand that giving has a positive effect on our mood. It makes us happy to make a difference in someone else’s life, to be kind. But is there more to it?

The staff at UCLA’s Bedari Kindness institute are ready to explore the physiological, psychological, and social impacts of kindness. “We look at the scientific point of view. We’re talking about the psychology, the biology, of positive social interactions,” says Daniel Fessler, the institute’s inaugural director.

There is growing evidence to support a correlation between kindness and longevity. In her recent book, The Rabbit Effect, Columbia University’s Dr. Kelli Harding says: “It helps the immune system, blood pressure, it helps people to live longer and better. It’s pretty amazing because there’s an ample supply and you can’t overdose on it. There’s a free supply. It’s right there.”

Photo by Sandrachile on Unsplash

Can it be both?

According to author Randy McNeely in his book, The Kindness Givers’ Formula: “A natural consequence of both giving and receiving genuine kindness is feelings of gratitude that fill our hearts and the natural lightening of our own burdens and personal challenges.  There is something divine about those feelings and when they come, we are so thankful that we can’t help but want to turn around and give love and kindness away. The more we do, the more we experience such amazing feelings of happiness and well-being inside that we want to do it again, and again, and again.

A great example in our lifetime is the work of Mother Theresa, who despite having few possessions of her own, gave freely and completely. As she became more well known and received support, funds, and world-wide recognition, she never stopped sharing these gifts with those in need. Her kindness changed the lives of so many and served as a glowing example of our higher nature and the transformation that can begin with a single act.

In my office, I have a plaque with a quote from an anonymous author that serves as a daily reminder. It says:

When it comes to kindness, everyone wins! So, let’s make it a daily habit!