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Musings for the Modern Mystic

Have you ever heard of "paying it forward"? It’s the simple idea that if you do something nice for somebody, they are more likely to then go on to do...

The Kindness Virus: How Paying It Forward Works For Everyone

Kindly words do not enter so deeply into men as a reputation for kindness. ~ Mencius Share on X

Do you ever get that warm fuzzy feeling when you do something nice for someone? It is a zillion times more satisfying than when you treat yourself. And it gives you a happy bubble that lifts you up a little higher for the rest of the day.

What do the experts say?

Although ‘feeling fuzzy’ may not be a scientific term, research has shown that acting kindly towards others does have a very real effect on our psychological and physical well-being.

“People who engage in kind acts become happier over time,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside with over 20 years’ experience studying happiness. “When you are kind to others, you feel good as a person — more moral, optimistic, and positive.”

And that is not all. The University of British Columbia found simple acts like opening doors for others and buying a friend lunch helped reduce anxiety and improve mood in socially anxious individuals. Furthermore, acts of kindness can release Oxytocin, a ‘cardio protective’ hormone associated with lowering blood pressure.

Being kind is good for your mind and good for your heart.

Need more reasons to catch the kindness virus?

A smile goes a long way.

Many of us have good intentions. We would love to be able to treat that special person to an amazing gift, make monthly donations to charity or spend our spare time volunteering. Unfortunately, these things are not always possible. Our own finances, troubles or work load can sometimes get in the way.

The good news is the kindness virus does not have to be something that costs money, or even time.

Put yourself in this scenario. You have had a terrible day at work, you desperately want to get home, and you have stopped off at the store pick up some dinner. It’s busy. You have been waiting in line to pay for your groceries for what feels like forever, and now the person ahead of you has a problem with their card.

Do you:

  1. Glare angrily ahead, huffing and puffing – so that the cashier/ customer know you have been waiting for ages and are aware of your growing frustrations.
  2. Smile at the customer. Offer them a little reassurance.

I am no angel. In fact, I am probably one of the most impatient people around when it comes to waiting for things, but I can almost guarantee you would walk away from that situation feeling happier having followed option A rather than option B.

When a smile is given authentically, the energy of it changes the feeling inside the receiver and you pass a little of that goodness on. Sometimes it may even stick, and the receiver will pass it on to someone else. This is the kindness virus, and it’s really quite simple. Most of humanity is drowning in the negativity virus; the kindness virus is the antidote.

Kindness and politeness are not overrated at all. They're underused. ~ Tommy Lee Jones Share on X

Kindness is Contagious.

Have you ever heard of “paying it forward”?

It’s the simple idea that if you do something nice for somebody, they are more likely to then go on to do something kind for someone else.

Scientists James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis were able to demonstrate that if you are kind to one person, they will then be kind to four other people, and each of those four people will be kind to yet another four. This is how the kindness virus spreads.

So is karma real?

If you are nice to someone, they are more likely to be nice back to you. Likewise, if you are negative towards someone, you are more likely to put them in a bad mood. And so they are likely to be less friendly and kind to others.

I suppose in that sense, then yes, karma does exist.

Of course, as with all things, it is probably not quite as straightforward as that.

Jonathan Haidt, University of Virginia psychologist and author of The Happiness Hypothesis recommends picking kind acts that strengthen existing relationships, rather than completely random acts. He says:

“If you do a random act of kindness for a stranger and it’s a one-shot deal, there’s much less likelihood that you’re going to see any benefit. It’s not the altruism per se that’s important. It’s really all about building relationships.”

Regardless, I am definitely going to try smiling more, doing random altruistic acts AND doing nice things for people I know. With evidence of reduced anxiety, blood pressure and a general increase in wellbeing, I don’t think I can go too far wrong.

And just in case you need more inspiration, here’s a great mood-boosting video showing some of that kindness in practice. :)

Sarah Hunter
Sarah Hunter


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