A Challenge for the Week: The Kindness Domino Effect

Look man, it’s never been easy for me to be genuinely kind or thankful – not outwardly, anyway. “WHAT DO YOU SAY?” my dad often asked Teenage Me. “How’s your day going?” or “You look good” seemed a better way to start an awkward conversation than show genuine curiosity or make a kind gesture.

That’s not to say I wasn’t kind or thankful. I was never an asshole, but for years I was sort of dead inside.

(That “sort of” isn’t lazy English; no, I was “sort of” dead inside like four hours of sleep is “sort of” a night of sleep.)

In this semi-deadness, the first thing to go was kindness, both inwardly and outwardly. It’s easy to let the inward gaze of mourning a loved one – in my case, my mother when I was 11 years old – turn into a lifelong, insidious self-hatred. It’s also easy to realize showing no emotion is a lot easier than ever putting that feeling of hurt on the table, burying a vulnerable psyche under layers of jokes and one-word answers. Then, it’s even easier to let yourself forget that (or perhaps never know) that your existence matters in ways you could never imagine.

So after shedding the boisterous personality of my early childhood, I was quiet for a long time. Smiles, thankfulness, and kindness all but disappeared. I came to find that when you don’t generously radiate these feelings and signs of humanity, it’s a bit more difficult to get them in return. When other people are only distantly appreciated, affection becomes a one-side affair.

But in the last few years, I’ve had something of an awakening in who I am and how I feel about life. Two years of living in the rather lonely world of chronic pain helped me reflect on who I am and how I’d prefer to exist. “Do I even deserve to be alive?” isn’t a question asked in my head often, nor is the inside-the-head statement of how much of a fucking asshole I am for outwardly expressing any small piece of myself. If they are asked or stated, they’re laughed out of the room like a drunk heckler at a comedy show.

My mission this week – and perhaps beyond this week – is to fix what I see as a personal paucity of outward kindness and gratitude.

This week, I plan to:

  • Say at least one genuine compliment or kind comment to someone, anyone, every day.
  • Say at least one genuinely gracious or thankful comment to someone, anyone, every day.

The only rule is this: comments must be genuinely made and genuinely believed by me. No fake shit.

For example, today I saw an older fella wearing a dope-ass NASA jacket. I’d rock the fuck out of that jacket, but that guy was doing it just fine for the both of us. When I told him that his jacket is awesome and he’s looking good, his grin spread ear-to-ear. NASA Man’s grin made me me feel good.

I want to create more small reverberations of happiness and genuine human moments in my small corner of the world.

Perhaps I can start something of a kindness “domino effect,” just as shown by the New England Journal of Medicine’s report of a 28-year-old person who walked into a clinic and anonymously donated their kidney setting off a ripple effect of 10 more people anonymously donating their kidney across the U.S.

Or perhaps I’ll help myself stay young and avoid heart disease. The American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism finds that oxytocin, produced through emotional warmth, reduces free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system.

Hey, perhaps gratitude can even help keep me stay pain-free, as a 2012 report published in Personality and Individual Differences finds that grateful people experience fewer aches and pains. 

Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll be just a bit more comfortable making myself feel vulnerable in the presence of others and gain even the slightest bit of additional comfort in my skin.

As my favorite old school (either African or Buddhist) proverb says: “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.”

Perhaps you want to join in on my quest for a kinder, more thankful 2017. Let me know what of experiences you have in your quest to get your oxytocin game up and start a kindness domino effect. I’ll keep writing about it if you write to me about your experiences.

The worst case scenario is having a bunch of older NASA-jacket wearing dudes walking around thinking that today is a damn good day.


Song that expresses the feel: Bibio’s “lovers’ carvings”

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