Can I Learn to Show Kindness?
Two recent incidents reported in The Post serve as welcome reminders that, despite the scary economy, the growing ugliness of the presidential campaign and all the worries that are built into our lives these days, some people still manage to show kindness to others.
The heartbreaking case of two little girls found dead in a freezer in their Maryland home had this one bright spot: Their neighbors have embraced the girls' 7-year-old sister and made sure she's taken good care of at last.
And this touching tale of an inebriated Maryland man putting himself to bed -- in someone else's home -- and the gentle generosity with which the homeowners treated him makes me wonder: Would I have been as nice as they were?
M.J. Ryan, author of The Giving Heart: Unlocking the Transformative Power of Generosity in Your Life (Conari Press, 2000) and one of the creators of the Random Acts of Kindness series (also Conari Press), says it's a question worth asking, if only for the health benefits kindness confers.
Ryan says research shows that being kind and generous can add years to your life, probably because committing an act of kindness -- or even thinking a kind thought -- is may trigger the release of stress-busting, happy-making hormones that combat the potentially damaging hormones your anxiety and fear activate. Ryan mentions the "helper's high," a rush of feel-good endorphins induced by doing unto others, and says those hormones may help keep you healthy. (For the record, Ryan's not a doctor, and I wasn't able to find published studies to support these claims. But the general principles are in keeping with existing research about stress hormones and endorphins.)
But what if kindness doesn't come naturally? Can you train yourself to do nice things?
Ryan says you can.
Here's how to get started:
Has anyone done something nice for you lately? And do you think kindness wanes during tough times? Or does adversity make us nicer to one another?
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