Wash your hands frequently. Cough into the sleeve of your arm rather than your hand. Use the sleeve of your shirt to open the bathroom door rather than your hand. Take a sick day and stay home rather than spread germs to others. These are but a few of the many strategies used to stop the spread of a virus or ‘bug’.
While you are well-versed and practiced in how to stop the spread of infection – what about knowing how to actively spread another contagion? What? Spread a contagion? Before you get too alarmed – hear me out first. Our world seems particularly divided right now – often down particular ideologies and in a very black and white; right and wrong way. This division is creating walls and barriers to our connection with each other. It is actively interfering with our basic human need to belong. This is a social-emotional need that requires fulfillment for the well-bing of our mental health.
How do you play a role in breaking down some of those barriers of division? You could introduce a virus – a ‘love bug’ of sorts into the mix. This love bug could instil a greater sense of civility and mutual recognition that we have more in common than we have differences with each other. This spread of a ‘love bug’ could be in the form of kindnesses.
How do you make kindness contagious? Let’s look at what Richard J. Davidson, a neuroscientist and emotional researcher, discovered:
“A fascinating new study in the journal Emotion (which I co-founded) examined the effects of prompting random acts of kindness in the workplace. The study focused on the behaviors of more than 100 employees who were randomly assigned to one of three groups: “givers,” “receivers,” and a “control” group.
The “givers” were instructed to perform five acts of kindness to specific “receivers” over the course of four weeks – neither were in the know about the actual purpose of the study. The “receivers” and “control” were led to believe the study was about workplace morale and were tasked with discretely keeping track of generous behaviors they observed.
Not only did both “givers” and “receivers” feel happier and report higher levels of well-being (less depressed and more satisfied with their jobs) two months later compared to the control, but researchers also discovered that the acts of kindness had a positive ripple effect. People who were “receivers” in the experiment paid it forward by doling out more acts of kindness compared to the control group – 278% more! In addition, “receivers weren’t only paying back the acts of kindness to the “givers,” but instead “paying it forward,” meaning that others benefited, too.
This idea that kindness is contagious isn’t new, yet this is the first study I’ve seen that rigorously looks at the spread of kindness in a professional setting. From my perspective as a neuroscientist and emotion researcher, these findings make sense: the quality of our connections and how close we feel to others is a strong contributor to whether we’re flourishing or flailing. There’s evidence that even at an incredibly young age as babies – before we even learn to talk – we prefer helping behaviors compared to hindering or negative behaviors. These findings suggest that kindness is “in our genes” and nurturing it is therefore consistent with our fundamental nature.”
Here are some strategies you may wish to incorporate in your life to spread kindness:
1. Make an effort to smile and make eye contact – it demonstrates to others that you are open to connecting with them
2. Whether you hear it or receive it – say, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to others.
3. Use your skills of noticing – to observe the presence of behaviours you appreciate and let the person know this in the form of a compliment. People rise to a compliment more often than a criticism. Many homes and workplaces would benefit from a bulletin board or wall to post public compliments on – spread the good will!
4. It can sometimes be more impactful to write a compliment in the form of a note – it is lasting and can be read and re-read. Compliments are not often received – so many may be at first awkward rather than graceful when receiving a compliment. Be patient and hopefully not deterred.
5. If you need to criticize someone’s behaviour or work – make it constructive – letting the receiver know what is working well and what could be improved and how to improve it. When sharing thoughts for improvement – make it a collaborative discussion rather than a one way imposition of shoulds and must-dos.
6. Acts of kindness are limitless – it can be in words or actions or both – use your imagination and think about it from the receiver’s point of view and what he or she values most.
7. Only choose to do acts or words of kindness that you feel genuine and comfortable saying or doing. Be yourself – that is the greatest gift of self that you can give to others.
8. Pets can often bring out the kindness and affection in humans – this may be the incentive your family could benefit from and help spread this good will to other family members.
May you be bitten by the love bug and that you are inspired to spread kindness in your world. Hopefully we will have an epidemic of kindness that spreads everywhere!!