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Health Fusion: The far-reaching effect of a forgotten act of kindness

A quick Google search on scientific research about kindness results in a plethora of papers. In this "Health Fusion" column for NewsMD, Viv Williams explores some of those studies to help explain how a forgotten act of kindness changed the trajectory of a friend's life and boosted feelings of wellbeing when remembered years later.

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Viv Williams

As I look back at this particular act of kindness, I can honestly say that I was clueless about it. I had no idea that a simple gesture would make such a difference in someone else's life.

Several years ago, I attended the screening of a friend's documentary film in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The event was held in an historic downtown building with marble steps, rich wood paneling and high ceilings. I love places like that so the atmosphere was great. After the film, the producer and colleagues did a little Q and A. Then a group of us went out to a very groovy Italian restaurant for a late dinner to celebrate the successful event.

We crammed into a small back room where there seemed to be more people than chairs. That's when I noticed a woman I didn't know standing against the wall looking a bit unsure of where she should sit. So I went over, introduced myself and plopped her down between two of my friends and across the table from the filmmaker. That was that. I hadn't thought about that moment again until two nights ago.

She was visiting Rochester with a friend and stopped by for dinner. She thanked me for my kindness the night of the screening and told me that she felt a little out of place and had decided to leave. And if I hadn't invited her to join us at the table, her life would be very different right now.

"But sitting there, I realized that I had finally found my people," she said. "We shared the same values, had the same sense of humor. And had it not been for your kindness, I would have walked out the door and never connected with them."

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She met her soon-to-be husband that night. Apparently, my small gesture had a huge, life-changing impact on her and I didn't even remember what I did until she brought it up after all this time.

Hearing that story sent my emotions soaring. I don't mean to imply that I'm kinder than anyone else is, especially because I didn't even remember the event. But the realization made me so happy and the feeling has stuck with me for two days so far.

I've done quite a few stories about kindness and this experience made me want to learn more about its impact on well-being. As I mentioned above, you can find a lot of information on the science of kindness online. And most of what I read supports the idea that acts of kindness boost mental and physical health. I find one study, Comparing the effects of performing and recalling acts of kindness , published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2019 particularly intriguing. The authors conclude that people who perform acts of kindness get a boost of feel-good benefits. That's not surprising to me. But what does seem amazing is their additional finding that shows you can also benefit from simply recalling an act of kindness that you performed in the past. I'm living proof of that. I swear just thinking about it makes me smile and leaves me with a sense of calmness.

In an article promoting #BeKind21 , an annual September event encouraging kind acts sponsored by Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation, The American Psychological Association cites research that shows kindness boost happiness and well-being for the doers and recipients. And it also benefits your physical health by lowering blood pressure and reducing stress.

Right now our world could use a little more kindness. I believe that there's not a creature on earth that doesn't respond positively to kindness and love. As Aesop says:

"No act of kindness, not matter how small, is ever wasted."

Vivien Williams is a video content producer for NewsMD and the host of "Health Fusion." She can be reached at vwilliams@newsmd.com.

Related Topics: NEWSMDHEALTH FUSION
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