What’s better than a world kindness day? A whole month! Upping the ante on random acts of kindness, Sydney mum, Linda Pang, created Feel Good February in 2015, a whole month dedicated to good deeds. The initiative has been gaining popularity year on year, as more people commit to bringing brightness and light into the world.
The science behind kindness
In response to the fast-changing world and daily exposure to negative news, Ms Pang wanted to teach her children gratitude and kindness. For the first year of Feel Good February, she bought 28 blank canvasses for her and her children to paint and leave as anonymous gifts in public areas, such as bus stops.
Individual acts of kindness like this release endorphins and oxytocin into our system – these are our feel-good chemicals which help to improve our mood and increase the likelihood we’ll ‘pay the kindness forward.’ Because giving, receiving or witnessing kind acts can make us feel good, it can become a self-reinforcing habit that requires less effort over time (perhaps a bit like how athletes can become addicted to endorphins after exercising).
Compassion (kindness) is teachable
Compassion is defined as the emotional response when we perceive suffering and involves an authentic desire to help; to help that young mum load her pram onto the bus, to feed that stray cat, to go to someone’s aid when you witness them trip and fall on the street.
While some studies have shown that compassion is instinctive, a University of Wisconsin-Madison study found that specific compassion training helped people build their compassion muscle and become more sensitive to other people’s suffering.
How to build your compassion muscle
Be kind to yourself
Firs thing’s first, you must start by being kind to yourself. If you make a mistake, are late to a meeting, or forget to call a friend, refrain from being cruel and disparaging to yourself, or worse, taking out your frustration on others.
Try compassion meditation
The University of Wisconsin-Madison study required participants to engage in compassion meditation. It works like this; you envision a time when someone has suffered, and then practice wishing them relief from their suffering. First start with yourself (because compassion for others begins with kindness to self), then extend your thoughts to a loved one who you should already feel compassion for easily, and then finally, envision someone you find to be difficult.
Pay attention to the impact
Commit to doing one kind deed per day for a month. This could be something small like complimenting a stranger or colleague, shouting someone a coffee, or writing someone a thank you note – you might get bigger as you become more comfortable or addicted to the chemical response. With every kind deed, pay attention to the way you feel and note it. For example, do you feel happier, lighter, kinder?
Unfortunately, in our line of work we often encounter clients who’ve been on the receiving end of unkind acts; they long to feel hopeful and light again. Hopefully these insights have inspired you to build your compassion muscle, for your own benefit and that of all others.