Can acts of kindness help relieve the tension and unease of this unusual year? Science says yes. Here’s how to include kindness in your spiritual goals.
Have you ever wanted to set a spiritual goal but gotten confused and discouraged by everyone’s ideal of what your goal should be (according to them)? For the next five weeks we’ll explore why and how you can set spiritual goals.
Sweet Sixteen and Never Had a Party
“I’ve never had a birthday party before,” my student said in a matter-of-fact way during class.
“Really?!” another student said, “how is that possible?”
“My birthday’s during the school year,” she shrugged, “and I guess my parents just didn’t have time.”
I called the class back to attention, and we resumed our study of Spanish verbs. After class, one student lingered in the classroom to talk to me.
“Mrs. Ojeda,” Julia said, “I can’t believe Allison’s never had a birthday party before. Can we do something for her?”
“That’s really kind of you to suggest that,” I replied. “I was thinking the same thing. Allison turns 16 next week.”
“Sixteen and never had a birthday party?” Julia said. “I’ll talk to the other students and see if we can pool our money and buy her some gifts.”
“You can come over to my house and bake a cake, if you’d like,” I told her.
“Awesome! We should make it a surprise party, don’t you think?”
“Good idea. We have enough time for me to announce that we’ll do a vocabulary treasure hunt next week, and we’ll send Allison out with a partner and the rest of us can go to my house and finish up our preparations.”
Within ten minutes, we had a plan mapped out, a baking day set, and an idea of what birthday party games we wanted to play.
My Spanish class buzzed with excitement but managed to keep the secret from Allison for an entire week. It warmed my heart to see their enthusiasm for the project.
Hunting for Treasure
Allison could rub people the wrong way at times. A lot of times, in fact. Her classmates often teased Allison for her abrasive attitude, perfectionist proclivities, and bossy behavior. On Allison’s birthday, my students acted casual. One even complained about having to go out on a treasure hunt in the cool weather.
“It’s not that cold outside,” Allison said, “weren’t you born in Montana?”
The student good naturedly agreed. I paired up the groups and gave Allison and her partner their first clue.
“Are you sure we can go there?” she asked. “You partnered me with Tim, and he’s a boy. Boys can’t go behind the girls’ dormitory.”
“I checked with the principal,” I told her. “He knows about the treasure hunt and he’ll keep an eye out for shenanigans.” Finally, I get her out the door, and the rest of us waited and watched for them to show up behind the girls’ dorm. We all grabbed our stuff and rushed down the fire escape to sprint to my house, on the other side of campus.
When we arrived, the kids hung streamers, banners, and balloons around my dining room. Another group set out the cake and party plates. Within 10 minutes, we had everything ready to surprise Allison.
We turned off the lights and waited in the darkened living room. At last, I head footsteps outside. Then arguing.
“Are you sure the clue says to go to the teacher’s house?” Allison asked.
“I’m sure,” Tim replied, his voice loaded with patience.
“What do we do now. I don’t see any clues.”
“Our last clue says to ‘abrir la puerta.’
Just Open the Door, Already
“Yeah. Open the door. But won’t we get in trouble if we just open the door of a faculty member’s house?”
“Mrs. Ojeda wrote the clues,” Tim explained. “So I’m pretty sure it’s ok if we just open the door.”
I stifled a snort of laughter. Typical Allison. Finally, the door cracked open and Allison and Tim stepped inside.
“Surprise!” we yelled as we jumped up and turned on the lights.
Allison’s shocked face quickly crumpled as we started to sing Happy Birthday to her (in Spanish, of course).
We spent the next 20 minutes playing pin the tail on the donkey, eating cake and ice cream, and watching Allison unwrap her gifts. When the class period ended, the other kids rushed off to their next class, but Allison stayed behind.
“Mrs. Ojeda,” she said as she helped me throw away party favors and take down the streamers, “thank you. This is the nicest surprise I’ve ever had.”
“You need to thank Julia and the rest of the class,” I told her. “She came up with the idea and got everyone involved.”
“Wow,” Allison exclaimed. “I didn’t even think she liked me.”
“Just watch,” I assured her, “I think things will change.”
The Science of Kindness
Performing an act of kindness releases oxytocin into our system. Our bodies produce oxytocin, a the ‘love hormone’ that helps us bond with others. According to Dr. Waguih William IsHack, https://bio.cedars-sinai.org/ishakw/index.html a professor of psychology at Cedars-Sinai researchers have shown that acts of kindness also produce dopamine. Dopamine, another feel-good chemical, elevates our mood.
Oxytocin and dopamine don’t stick around forever, though. Those lovin’ feelings will be gone, gone, gone in about the same amount of time it takes to watch Hall and Oats sing their song.
The remedy? Make a habit of practicing acts of kindness. Set a spiritual goal of following Jesus’ advice. These hacks will help you.
1. Practice Kindness with Yourself, First
Jesus tells us we need to love God AND love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). Notice, we can’t love our neighbors if we don’t have any love for ourselves. Take time each day to acknowledge your accomplishments. Celebrate the small things—a deadline met, the way you handled a difficult situation, or a healthy choice you made at lunch.
We need to release those feel-good endorphins as they relate to ourselves, so we have an easier time acting with kindness towards others.
2. Practice Kindness with Your Family
For some reason, we find it most difficult to extend kindness to the ones closest to us. A psychology professor at Georgia Regents University, Deborah South Richardson, has studied aggression for over 40 years, and she’s found aggression falls into different categories. She spoke about her research with HuffPost.
Direct aggression includes hitting, yelling, confrontations, and other hurtful actions (including unkind words and sexual aggression). Humans are more likely to use direct aggressions with the people they love most. Men use this type of aggression more than women.
Nondirect aggressions happen without confrontation. They fall into one of two categories—indirect aggressions, such as spreading gossip or rumors, and passive aggression, such as not doing something. According to Richardson, men and women use indirect aggressions equally and more often than direct aggressions.
I came up with these examples which might help.
Direct aggression: A wife asks a husband if he’s taken out the trash, and he immediately starts yelling at her and accusing her of nagging.
Indirect aggression: A wife asks her husband if he’s taken out the trash, and he says no. Later, when out with his buddies, he complains loudly about how his wife always nags.
Passive aggression: A wife asks her husband if he’s taken out the trash, and he doesn’t respond. In addition to not taking out the trash, he suddenly starts leaving the toilet seat up each time he uses the bathroom and leaving dirty dishes all over the place.
Given the research, we would be wise to set a spiritual goal of treating our family members with kindness.
Do an inventory of your interactions with family members. Do you use courteous speech? Saying please, thank you, you’re welcome, would you mind, and I appreciate you all show kindness.
3. Practice Kindness with Your Neighbors
Based on the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus makes it pretty clear our ‘neighbor’ includes everyone who walks on earth. Simple acts of kindness we can demonstrate towards our neighbors include:
- Opening doors.
- Letting others go first in line.
- Smiling at everyone we pass.
- Asking if someone needs help.
- Refraining from telling off-color or racist jokes.
- Letting other people know you don’t want to hear off-color or racist jokes.
- Listening more than we talk.
- Asking questions instead of assuming.
- Having a genuine interest in other people and their opinions and customs.
- Talking positively about people.
Setting a spiritual goal of practicing one random act a kindness a day doesn’t have to cost a dime. But in return, we’ll get a helper’s high that will boost our overall mood.
Long-Term Effects of Kindness
After the epic surprise party Julia and her classmates threw for Allison, I noticed a slow change in behavior. Both in Allison and her classmates. Allison started asking for other people’s opinions instead of insisting on hers. Her classmates treated Allison with more respect—after all, it’s difficult to tear down what you just built up.
The changes didn’t happen overnight, but the random act of kindness set the stage for steady growthHacks to help you incorporate kindness as a spiritual goal for the new year. #kindness #RAK #selfcare Click To Tweet