Kindness Matters

Kindness Matters

This blog originally appeared on

Kindness Matters

What can you do to lift someone up?

In the spirit of World Kindness Day, consider what you can do to spread kindness. People could use a little lift these days. We are lonelier than ever before. As our connectedness has decreased so have our levels of happiness, while rates of depression and suicide have soared.

We can change that. A seemingly small act of kindness ripples across communities, affecting people in our network with whom we may or may not interact directly. Experiments with professional athletes, accounting, nursing and professional services, reveal that people’s mood and emotions are contagious. In their book Connected, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler show how happiness spreads not only among pairs of people but also between a person and his friends, his friends’ friends, and their friends. Happiness in this context doesn't depend on deep, personal connections; frequent, superficial, face-to-face interactions can also powerfully influence happiness.

Ochsner Health System, a Louisiana health care provider, adopted what it calls the 10/5 Way. If employees are within 10 feet of someone, they should make eye contact and smile. Within five feet, they should say hello. Ochsner has seen greater patient satisfaction and an increase in patient referrals as a result of this simple formula.

A pat on the back, a fist bump, or a high five matters. It might just help you and your team win too. Michael Kraus, Cassy Huang, and Dacher Keltner of the University of California Berkeley studied every team in the NBA in the 2008-09 season and found teammates who touch the most win the most. Touch predicted improved performance even after accounting for player status, preseason expectations, and early season performance.

Make the effort to acknowledge someone, say hello, high five them, or provide a caring gesture. When the closest friend of my then-six-year-old nephew Henry broke his arm, the two could be found sitting outside the principal’s office during recess. His good friend was stationed there with a broken arm. My nephew decided he shouldn’t sit there alone, so, unprompted, he opted to join his friend on the bench inside.

When another friend in his class was disappointed to learn that his birthday wasn’t going to be celebrated as he expected, Henry asked his friend if he wanted to go to the bathroom to talk about it. Henry had cleared it with their teacher.

Henry may have learned compassion from his parents (as Adam Grant has written); his 10-year-old brother, Isaac, is wonderful with 13-year-old sister Annabel, who has a rare chromosome disorder, Dup15. This summer, Annabel was confined to a wheelchair with a broken tibia. Isaac told his dad that she was having a tough morning, and went outside to eat with her. Isaac talked with her, but mostly they just sat, munching on bagels in the sun.

We may not know how people could use a friend, resources, or a simple pick-me-up. My friend Amy D’Ambra, who founded My Saint, My Hero, has spearheaded a kindness movement in schools and organizations. At a recent event in Los Angeles, over 5000 students received the Kindness bracelet as a reminder that they matter, are loved, and are never alone.

Amy’s ‘wear one, share one’ acts lift people. As an event with sellers at a hotel near Cleveland, Ohio, was getting ready to start, Amy noticed a gentleman sitting in the corner. Amy approached him and explained that this room full of ladies was getting ready to launch an event. She apologized for any disruption or inconvenience. The sullen businessman asked what kind of event it was. Amy smiled, and pointed to her wrist, explaining the meaning behind these blessings bracelets. She peeled a bracelet from her wrist, and said, “Please take this.” She noticed that tears began to well up in his eyes. He said, “You don’t know what this means to me…my son passed away five years ago, today. Every year, on this day, my wife and I go to church together and pray that he’s okay. It’s such a tough day for us, and for the first time since then, I’m not able to be home. I was expected to attend this important meeting, and I’ve felt terrible all day...All day I’ve been thinking of my son, wondering if he’s okay…Thank you. Thank you so much. I feel that he’s okay now.” The businessman opted to stay for the event, and shared his story with the members attending the event, graciously thanking them for their work.

On World Kindness Day, what can you do to lift someone up? Take a moment to commit to an act—or two. You have no idea how much it might affect someone.

You might:

  • Try the 10/5 way for the day. 
  • Thank someone.
  • Eat with someone you don’t know—or someone who might need support.
  • Listen attentively to someone, and ask how you can help.
  • Sign up to volunteer for an event (e.g., feed the needy).
  • Donate to help others celebrate the holidays.
  • Send a gratitude message to a co-worker.
  • Write your partner, a family member, or friend a list of things you love about him or her.
  • Give a gift to someone or to a charitable cause.
  • Write a LinkedIn recommendation for a connection.
  • Set an alarm three times today. Do an act of kindness for someone when it goes off.

Christine Porath, PHD


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