From mass shootings to police shootings to terrorist attacks to every day acts of cruelty to others that have become so commonplace that we no longer protest or complain about them, this year we experienced too many random widespread acts of inhumanity and violence.
My Christmas message last week on homelessness sparked quite a few comments that I found both refreshing and inspiring. One reader offered to feed the homeless families that pick-up food behind my downtown office for a special holiday meal, another reader posted it on his social media with the hope that others would be inspired to spread the word that the season should be about helping others and not so much about helping ourselves. And then there was the reader who suggested that as we end 2015 we begin the new year – perhaps in the spirit of the holidays – with a focus on being kind to others.
“Since this week is about helping the homeless,” he said in his response, “other random acts of kindness can include doing just some small nice thing for a stranger, so maybe they in turn will do the same for another person. Those acts may include things like buying the next person in line a cup of coffee, and asking them to pass it on. Holding a door open for someone also counts. Buying a meal for the homeless person you pass by on the street. Taking a child who otherwise could not possibly go to a ball game. Of course, Big Brothers and Sisters count, and so does every other sort of volunteer effort. Those are big and important acts of kindness. But simple small acts of kindness can be contagious. A random act of kindness even once a day is a good New Year’s resolution.”
So I started wondering, can small acts of kindness be contagious?
Earlier this year researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands conducted a study on the scent of joy and happiness and found that certain scents produced by our bodies can communicate happiness to others. It seems from their research that happiness has a distinct smell that humans can sense on one another, and induces “a simulacrum of happiness in the receivers” triggering a contagion of the emotional state. Likewise, American researchers from Harvard University and the University of California who study behavioral contagions have found that emotions like generosity and altruism can be contagious. “When you’re doing good deeds,” Distinguished Professor Barbara Frederickson author of Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection says in her book, “you’re enticing a common feeling across two people, and that’s part of what knits a community together.”
I know the questions remain; can all the random acts of violence we experience be mitigated by random acts of kindness? Will our small acts of kindness spread and influence others with the same voracity with which violence seems to infect humanity? Can doing something nice for others with no expectations combat the hate acts and hate language that seems to be swirling all around us daily?
I think that if we spend every day being kind to those we know as well as those we don’t, we will see that there is already more good in the world than evil. We can become not only advocates for all that is good and kind and joyful, we can promote even more and help it to spread. I think my reader is right; a random act of kindness a day is the perfect resolution for 2016. Happy New Year and let it be one full of infectious kindness, happiness, and joy.