Kindness is an act of benevolence. It is the caring we show for others. As John's story shows, acts of kindness benefit the giver and receiver. Kindness comes from a place of seeing others as being of equal importance as ourselves, and being in touch with our common humanity. We are uplifted even when we hear about acts of kindness.
Psychologist, Sonja Lyubomirsky has studied kindness and has found that happier people tend to be more kind. She has also found that practicing acts of kindness makes people happier. In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonja talks about how kindness works. She suggests that being kind leads us to perceive others more positively, increases our sense of interdependence and community, relieves our guilt or discomfort over the suffering we see with others, and encourages appreciation of what we have. These points are illustrated in the story that Rabindranath Tagore tells:
I lived on the shady side of the road and watched my neighbors' gardens reveling in sunshine. I felt I was poor, and from door to door went with my hunger. The more they gave me from their careless abundance, the more I became aware of my beggar's bowl. Till one morning I awoke from my sleep at the sudden opening of my door, and you came and asked for alms. In despair I broke the lid of my chest open and was startled into finding my own wealth.
Sonja Lyubomirsky has done research showing that practicing acts of kindness can improve our happiness and well being. To have this effect, she found that it is beneficial to set aside a specific day and try to do more kind acts then typical on that day. She states that it is important that the kind acts be chosen freely, not imposed by others. She also observes that chronically caring for others can at times be a detriment to a person's happiness. This does not mean people shouldn't do this, but that too much caring for others at the sacrifice of one's own needs can be difficult and people in these positions can benefit from additional support. Acts of kindness are more likely to increase well-being when they are done without expectation of return, and when they are done from the perspective that it is better to give then to receive.
So try it! Pick a few things to do for others, large or small. For example: do a chore for someone in your household, pick up litter in your community, spend time with someone who cannot get out on their own, donate money to a good cause, give blood, volunteer your time at a school, hospital, nursing home, charitable organization, give up your seat on the train or bus to someone else, or anything else you can think of. It may improve you life, and if nothing else, the world always needs more kindness.
Hear John and Cecila tell their story on StoryCorps