November 13 is World Kindness Day. Kindness can come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes – there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. That’s the beauty of being kind. It’s rewarding for everyone involved!

The story below is a firsthand experience from one of our blog writers. It’s the perfect example of how kindness can impact you and the people around you in a positive way.

Years ago, I had just moved to Calgary when I met him. Running out of the bank, money in hand, I was rushing to my next assignment, when I heard a man shouting in my direction. When I turned around, there was a middle-aged man limping towards me, holding a bunch of $20 bills in his hand — the money I had dropped.

The gentleman’s name was Terry. I later learned he was a retired bull rider, a proud man who was selling newspapers to raise money for people living on the streets or struggling not to. What struck me most is that Terry, the man most likely to be helped by a surprise windfall, should be the least likely to chase down the stranger who lost some money. Which made his selfless actions that day even more heartwarming.

We became friends and I soon learned Terry always put kindness first. He was happy when he sold newspapers but happiest when he made people laugh or smile.

Terry knew something many of us fail to truly understand — there’s power in kindness. And it’s backed by science.

Harvard University researchers involved with the Social Capital Community Benchmark found those who gave either time or money were 42 per cent more likely to be happy than those who didn’t. There’s even a name for the theory that kindness has health benefits. The so-called helper’s high is a state of joy coined by psychologists.

You don’t even have to act on it. Just thinking about being kind has health benefits too.

“The act of helping others actually activates the part of your brain that makes you feel pleasure,” Mayo Clinic experts say. “It also releases a hormone called oxytocin that helps modulate social interactions and emotion — the higher your oxytocin levels, the more generous you may be.”

Loving-kindness meditation (known as LKM) is a meditative-type state where you focus thought on your heart region, encouraging warm, tender thoughts, possibly about a loved one. The documented health benefits of LKM range from reduced pain and tension from migraines to lower symptoms of depression and possible slowing of the aging process.

“In one study, people who practiced LKM an hour a week felt greater positive emotions — love, contentment, joy — while interacting with others,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

So, whether you are kind to yourself (which can improve sleep, increase confidence and is overall good for your health,) or directing compassion to others, a little kindness can yield big returns.

Generosity can be contagious too.

A perfect example of the power of kindness to promote more generosity goes back to a simple act in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where one person picked up the tab for the car behind them in the coffee-shop drive-through. The result? The next 226 customers did the same.

A similar story rooted in the belief that pay-it-forward gestures can have ripple effects unfolded when an anonymous 28-year-old individual walked into a clinic and donated a kidney. It prompted “other family members of recipients of a kidney (to donate) one of theirs to someone in need.”

Ask Calvin Holbrook, the magazine editor, and he’ll tell you kindness is in our DNA. He says it‘s also a powerful tool when it comes to improving our health.

  1. It releases feel-good hormones
  2. Can lower anxiety levels. That’s because social anxiety is associated with low positive affect (PA) which is linked to an individual’s experience of positive moods such as “joy, interest and alertness.” Holbrook cites a happiness study conducted by University of British Columbia researchers which found those who engaged in kind acts had major hikes in their PA levels.
  3. May lower inflammation and possibly combats health problems like diabetes, chronic pain, obesity, and migraines. Holbrook cites a study showing that adults between ages 57 and 85 who volunteered had “the strongest association with lower levels of inflammation.”
  4. Kindness may come from the heart. And it’s good for the heart. Dr. David Hamilton says it’s because the oxytocin released with acts of kindness can directly affect the chemical balance of your heart, lowering blood pressure and providing protection.

Hamilton, a PhD in organic chemistry and author of the Five Side Effects of Kindness, says the recognition that kindness matters goes back a long way.

“We are wired for kindness,” Hamilton says. “Our evolutionary ancestors had to learn to cooperate with one another. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater were the chances of survival and so ‘kindness genes’ were etched into the human genome. So today, when we are kind to each other we feel a connection and new relationships are forged or existing ones strengthened.”

That’s what happened with Terry, the sweet fellow who returned the money. A friendship was forged by kindness. And although Terry passed away a few years ago, the simple story of his sweet deed remains an inspiration.

“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” — Mark Twain