#WellbeingWednesday: Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward Day 2016

I admit it: I’ve been known to indulge in the festivities of certain proclaimed “days of the year.” Namely, these include National Ice Cream Day (third Sunday in July), National Donut Day (first Friday in June), and National Coffee Day (around September 29th).  In today’s culture of constant access to pretty much anything we want, whenever we want it, it feels nice to take a moment to focus on one particular item and the wonderful memories we have with it (e.g. donuts while visiting grandma or ice cream with dad after softball games). It’s also special to set aside a day to honor something that we would otherwise ignore, and to inspire us to be the best we can be.  No, I’m not still talking about ice cream and donuts. I’m referring to Pay It Forward Day, which is tomorrow, Thursday, April 28, 2016.  This is a day that has been set aside to remind us that random acts of kindness create a ripple effect that extends far beyond anything we could imagine.

 

 

Pay It Forward

 

Benefits of Generosity

We may already know that giving feels good, but how does this happen?  Dr. David R. Hamilton, author of Why Kindness is Good for You, found that on a biochemical level, kindness elevates levels of dopamine in the brain.  Dopamine is the “feel good” neurotransmitter that is also elevated when exercising, listening to music, and eating a satisfying meal (as well as a host of other activities that may not be quite as healthy or legal).  Raising dopamine levels through giving is a way to naturally feel good and initiate the internal reward system that will create a “helper’s high.”

 

Dr. Hamilton’s work has also shown that being kind creates a healthier heart and slows down the aging process. When we are kind, we release oxytocin, which through a chain reaction process, lowers blood pressure. Oxytocin also reduces the free radicals and cardiovascular inflammation that are tied with aging. Other studies have shown that volunteering on a regular basis (no more than 10 hours monthly) reduces early mortality rates by up to 22%.

 

Other researchers have found that giving promotes social connection and cooperation, which are keys to creating better relationships.  Dr. Scott Huettel at Duke University found that when we give, there is increased activity in the same region of the brain that is tied to understanding someone’s perspective and actions (empathy).  Having a greater level of empathy is the foundation for truly understanding when someone could benefit most from even the simplest act of kindness. On a personal level, we all know the power of a well-timed hug or sincere gesture of assistance when we need it the most.  These authentic acts of kindness and generosity are what enrich our lives, make us feel connected to each other, and create joy.

 

 

Other Benefits of Giving

Acts of kindness provide benefits not only to the recipient and the giver, but also to those who observe the act of kindness.  This is the cornerstone of pay it forward movements like Pay It Forward Day.  Researches have found, repeatedly, that generosity and kindness are contagious, not just in Liberty Mutual commercials, but also in real life.  Dr. James Fowler (University of California, San Diego) and Dr. Nicholas Christakis (Harvard University) have teamed up to provide evidence that cooperation is contagious, and it spreads like wildfire from person to person (and beyond).  Their research also confirms that once someone is a recipient of kindness, they do indeed “pay it forward” by helping strangers not directly involved, which in turn creates an interconnected (and growing) network of participants who have given and received kindness.

 

 

Where to Begin

Tomorrow is the perfect day to try out some spontaneous giving! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Purchase the food or coffee of someone behind you in line.
  • If you see someone struggling to carry something, offer to help.
  • If you know that a coworker has been struggling, surprise them with flowers or a cup of coffee.
  • Send treats into your child’s classroom.
  • Cook a meal for a family in need.
  • Send a sincere handwritten note of gratitude to someone deserving.
  • Do a chore for a neighbor or friend who is unable to do it.
  • Volunteer to serve at your church or within your community.
  • Identify something you were going to sell on craigslist or at a garage sale and donate it to someone in need.
  • Tell your family how much you love and appreciate them, and give them a big hug.
  • Offer to watch a friend or neighbor’s child so they can get a short break.
  • Over-tip your wait staff 50%, just because.
  • Compliment at least two people with genuine compliments.
  • Surprise a coworker, neighbor, or child’s teacher with something from their favorite team, restaurant, or interest.
  • If at any point tomorrow, you feel, “I should do XYZ to help that person,” do it!

 

 

As St. Francis of Assisi said, “For it is in giving that we receive.” I hope this rings true for you and your health, not just tomorrow, but for years to come.

 

 

– TANYA RUNCI, MA, ADE