How lovely this one is. I thought I would have no trouble coming up with a range of acts of kindness but now that we are in proper lockdown again I’m suddenly limited. I can’t go and help out at voluntary events, I have so few people I interact with as I work from home. I have cooked some special meals for my lovely man – but is it kindness if it’s for someone you love?
I have called my lovely elderly isolated people – but I enjoy those calls as much as them so is it kindness? I consider that for it to be completely unconditional it would have to be for a stranger, so I thought about dropping random notes of love and support through people’s doors but decided it would just be weird to go around furtively shove a thing through a stranger’s letterbox while I’m out doing my permitted ‘exercise’. That idea needs a little more thought. Meanwhile I have made particular effort to smile at everyone I see when I’m on my walks or shopping, as that is an easy free little gift, even if largely impeded by a face mask, and is always rewarded with a happy smile in return. Then finally today I got the chance for a proper act of kindness, as one of the isolating gentlemen I regularly call needed a bit of shopping as his usual helper wasn’t available. I jumped at the chance to spend what would have been my afternoon allotment time doing his shopping and walking across town to deliver it. And instead of a phone call catch up we had a two metres apart doorstep chat which was so much nicer, and I got to see his beaming smile of gratitude. His smile of course passed to me, and I was still smiling half an hour later when I got home.
I know how lovely it feels to do something nice for someone. Even without the gratitude, you just feel happier about yourself if you know you’ve brightened someone’s day a little. I know that kindness releases oxytocin, which makes you feel happy and peaceful, because we are evolutionarily wired for positive connection to each other via the medium of care, love and kindness. So it makes sense that anything that fills you with the happy hormone of oxytocin will have health benefits for the body and mind. In Mind’s five ways to wellbeing, ‘Give’ is listed as a major step to wellness. The charity says, ‘an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in wellbeing.’
When I have managed to complete these 21 days (it’s taking a while, I know), I might do a full 21 days of just kindness. That will be a fun challenge! For now, I’m enjoying finding little ways to add kindness into my days, even if it’s just smiles and complements, it makes me happy.
There is an obvious post-cult side note to this. In the particular doctrine I grew up with, we were taught the spiritual importance of ‘vitality elements’. When you do a good deed with your physical body it creates a ‘vitality element’ that goes to your spirit which is why you feel nice. I’m not going to get into the habit of quoting religious doctrine here, but this sentence explains what I used to believe – and teach to the kids – about doing good for others: ‘The spirit self not only receives vitality elements from the physical self; it also returns an element to the physical self which we call the living spirit element. When people receive grace from a heavenly spirit, they undergo many positive changes in their physical self; they feel infinite joy and new strength welling up in them which can even drive away illness.’ Which made perfect sense back then, and makes a different sense now that I know the warm fuzzy feeling isn’t a result of following a path of ‘goodness’ prescribed by a religious leader, it is simply oxytocin.