Written by Claudia Vermillion, Care Connections Specialist
“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain
A Random Act of Kindness Day is recognized each year on February 17th.
The Random Act of Kindness Foundation is an internationally recognized non-profit organization founded upon the powerful believe in kindness and dedicated to providing resources and tools that encourage acts of kindness. The initiative brings those individuals, groups and organizations to the forefront.
An act of kindness doesn’t have to be grand to make a significant impact in one’s life. Some ideas to get you started are:
Pay for the coffee or meal of the person in front of you in line.
Leave a kind note for someone, no explanation needed.
Share words of encouragement. You never know who might need them.
Put your skills to work for someone in need.
Drop off a load of groceries at the local food pantry.
Mail/text a “thinking of you” card to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while.
Send a thank you note to the local fire department, police department or any military personnel.
So how do we cultivate kindness in what can seem like an unkind world? A few years ago, researchers at the University of Wisconsin set out to answer the question “Can compassion be learned?” Compassion involves the ability to feel empathy for others and awareness. Compassion helps people feel what others are feeling, but also compels them to help others and relieve their suffering.
In the study, young adults were taught to engage in compassionate meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique intended to increase caring feelings for people who are experiencing suffering. While meditating, the participants were asked to imagine a time when someone was suffering. They then rehearsed wishing for the relief of that person’s suffering.
Another group of participants called the “control group” were trained in a technique known as cognitive reappraisal in which they learn to reframe their thoughts in order to feel less negative. Both groups received training for a period of 30 minutes every day for two weeks.
The researchers also wanted to see what kind of impact this compassion training had on the brain. Participants were given an MRI prior to and after training allowing researchers to see how compassion mediation influences brain activity. What they observed was that those participants who were more likely to be altruistic after the compassion training had an increase in brain activity in the inferior parietal cortex, an area of the brain associated with empathy and understanding. Other regions of the brain associated with positive emotions and emotional regulation also showed an increase in activity. Researchers suggested that like many other abilities, compassion is a skill that can be improved with practice.
The great news is that compassion is a skill that can be learned and strengthened. By learning how to increase compassion, people can build deeper and more meaningful connections with others that will inspire good works, helpful actions and human kindness.
Including a Random Act of kindness is a great way to begin building a new routine each day just like brushing your teeth or exercising. Leave a few minutes for intentional moments of kindness and acknowledgment of others.
Kindness starts with you. One smile. One compliment. One cup of coffee. One conversation.
Let’s lift the fog and make kindness the new norm.