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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Random Acts of Kindness

   Two young mothers met in the line at the post office counter. The first mom noticed that the lady behind her held a package with an overseas address and assumed she was a military wife. "Are you mailing that to your husband?" the first mom asked. The military mom seemed surprised that she asked but replied in the affirmative. "I send him something every two weeks, which is when I get paid." The civilian mom asked if she could pay the postage on the package for her. "You don't have to," the military mom answered, "I do have the money now."  The civilian mom requested,"Please let me pay it today, you are paying every day."

   The military mom was touched by the gesture of support. In the 30-minute conversation that followed, she confessed her feelings of isolation and the fact that nobody had reached out to her. The two ladies exchanged phone numbers and a friendship began.

   Another friend told of witnessing an incident at the grocery store. A young lady checked out behind an elderly woman The clerk had accidentally added the older lady's groceries in with the next customer's items. As she apologized and began to cancel the sale, the younger lady spoke up, "That's OK, I would love to pay for her groceries today." 

   These two incidents made me think of the Random Acts of Kindness movement. I learned that February 11-17 is the week chosen to celebrate this. I also learned that helping others contributes to the maintenance of good health and can diminish the effects of disease and disorders, both serious and minor, psychological and physical. In 1991 Alan Luks wrote "The Healing Power of Doing Good." Volunteers reported feeling a rush of euphoria, followed by a longer period of calm, after performing a kind act. The feeling is called helper's high and includes the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. The initial rush is followed by a longer lasting period of improved emotional well-being. (Sounds like a good painkiller to get addicted to!) Luks research showed that the greater the frequency of helping, the greater the health benefits. And surprisingly, he found that helper's high results most often from helping people we don't know. In addition, the health benefits return when the helping act is remembered. The list of ills ameliorated by helping is long and includes sleeplessness, acid reflux, arthritis, lupus, asthma, depression and coronary artery disease. Unlike other treatments, there is no risk of overdose and no harmful side effects.

   Robert D. Putnam reported similar findings in his book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse of American Community." He noted that regular club attendance, volunteering, church attendance or entertaining is the happiness equivalent of getting a college degree or doubling your income. Civic connections rival marriage and affluence as predictors of life happiness.

   Maya Angelou said, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel." News anchorman Charles Kuralt, known for his award winning "On the Road" segments, commented that the everyday kindness of the back roads of America more than make up for the acts of greed in the headlines.

  So helping is good for me, good for others but can it really make a difference? I love what Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." So what do you say? Let's plan some random acts for the week of February 11. Maybe we can start a revolution.


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