What is it about doing something nice for someone else that makes us feel so good?
Before the days when neuroscience research became popular, the social pain we might feel in life was something we were told to get over! Whether we were bullied at school or at work, left out by our friendship group, ignored in social settings, lonely in a new city or treated unfairly…we were told to toughen up and get on with life!
Interesting research by Naomi Eisenberger has shown that our brains actually treat social pain much like they do physical pain. Can you imagine that Tylenol reduces our social pain more than a placebo! Even more fascinating is that social rewards are also treated like physical rewards in our own brain, so when we give someone positive feedback or treat them fairly or kindly we can activate the reward centres in our brain in the same way as if we had received a financial windfall (like winning the lottery!) Our brain releases a chemical called Dopamine, the ‘feel good’ factor, in response to social reward.
You may be wondering what all of this brain science information has got to do with the idea of being kind to someone, or ‘paying it forward’?
Let me tell you a story! Recently I overheard two British backpackers wondering how they were going to get from their B & B to the bus depot. Laden with backpacks and looking travel weary, my heart went out to these strangers and the thought popped into my mind to offer them a lift – “pile into the back of the Pajero with the dogs and the beach bags and I’ll get you there in time for the next Greyhound bus to Cairns!” This would never happen in England, they said! The twenty minute ride to the bus was all it took for us to become acquainted, swap numbers and agree that the next time I’m in Oxford, we’ll get in touch!
It doesn’t take long to make a difference to someone’s life and show a little kindness, and it may well change your life for the better! It is the random acts of kindness that matter, the small everyday opportunities that present themselves to us that open the window for these kind of interactions. And so it makes sense to live kindly and reach out positively to people around us.
The trick is, we need to remember the three A’s involved in Paying It Forward: be Alert, Aware and Act:
It’s amazing what we can achieve when we want to in life. When we have a reason for achieving something, a purpose and a clear picture of what we want to get out of something, then the ‘doing’ becomes easier. I encourage you to read more about the health and well-being benefits of introducing more kindness into your life, and paying it forward more often. Find a way to remind yourself that this aspect of your life is important, and be alert to the rewards that may follow on from your vigilance.
It’s very easy for our days to be engulfed in busy-ness and for our super-scheduled diaries to swallow up our time. Imagine a a day when your first thought is going to be an appreciation for the sound of birdsong, and the impact of that first smile to the person you are with. Imagine what act of kindness you can do for the first person you see at work! Or perhaps your first phone call of the day – a smile carries over the phone, it resonates in your voice.
Act on your instincts
There is no time like this moment, so I encourage you to grasp it, or Carpe Diem, as in the wise words of Robin Williams.
When you see someone who needs a hand, reach out. Should someone need a listening ear, find the time to listen. If there is a lonely or isolated person in your sphere, invite them over. There is no limit to the opportunities for random acts of kindness that are sure to cross your path every day of your life – don’t let them pass you without acting on them!
Speaking to strangers takes courage, especially for those of us who are shy in social situations. making time when we are already busy can feel frustrating. There are many reasons why we keep to ourselves and get on with our days, and my hope is that after reading this blog you will find yourself living your today and your tomorrow and all the days after that a little differently.
The benefits to your health and well-being are sure to follow!