I was stacking a book to return to the library when a card dropped out. It was the postcard pictured above with an inscription on the back: Thanks for spending your birthday with us! EAT SOME CAKE! It was signed with a heart, and the name Veda. I’m guessing flight attendants aren’t required to do anything special for a birthday, but this person took it upon herself to further brighten the celebrant’s day. The passenger who received this card was so touched they kept it. I’m sorry the beloved postcard-bookmark ended up out of their hands, but it served its purpose anew by giving me a pleasant surprise. I sent the picture to my friend, Anne, who works for Alaska Air so we could beam over the service “her” airline provides—which in turn gave her a hit of happiness.
A number of years ago, the idea of random acts of kindness got traction. Things like putting money in someone’s parking meter (back in the day when we still had them), buying coffee for the next car in the drive-thru line, or mowing a neighbor’s lawn. My father was the “walking path clean-up guy” for years in his town of Sonoma, CA. He proudly showed me the local paper’s article about his good deeds of ten years. At Dad’s instigation, the police department equipped him with a backpack containing spray paint to wipe out tags and graffiti along the path. He walked seven miles a day, six days a week to collect debris. Every other week he donned the backpack for his patrol. One of the silliest things he ever said to me was, “Everything I pick up seems to do with the mouth!” I reminded him it was a lot easier to walk and eat, drink, or smoke than anything else.
In this time of difficulty, it’s easy to lose track of what people do every day to bring joy to others. An antidote to anxiety and depression may be engaging in acts of selflessness. Studies on altruism and kindness show the initiator gains health and psychological benefits. There’s a feel-good helper’s high (thanks to serotonin and other neurotransmitters) that comes from being kind. Those feel-good hormones help the heart and immune system, as well as mood. In fact, it’s so good for us that people who offer practical help to others have a lower risk of dying over a five-year period (Dr. Stephanie Brown, University of Michigan). Great news for all of you who have been making masks!
Fortunately, it’s in our genes to be kind. Research by Dr. Michael Tomasello (of the Max Planck Institute) indicates we begin to help others at the young age of fourteen months. Even witnessing an act of kindness makes us feel good; then we’re likely to reach out to someone else and do the same. That would explain the “pay it forward” aspect of buying coffee for the next driver (which often goes on for a cluster of cars).
Acts of kindness don’t require material stuff, money, or anything special. They are generated by thoughtfulness and its expression. As the Dalai Lama says, “Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
What kindness have you recently been offered or offered others? Please comment in the box below.
Sending you appropriately physically distanced encouragement—and a reminder to look for what’s right with the world.