- On July 12, 2017
Rock. Paper. Scissors.
Skin loses every time. As I was abruptly reminded when I suddenly found myself sprawled out, face down on a rocky trail in the Catoctin Mountains.
Slowing rolling over, relieved that nothing seemed broken except my pride. I figure there will be some swollen knees from taking the brunt of the fall and a small divot of shin left behind as a marker of my unexpected up-close-and-personal meeting with jagged granite.
In the park bathroom 30 minutes later, I wince and suck the air sharply as I pat the bloody bruise on my shin with a warm toilet paper compress. A thin thread of bright red blood trickles down my leg.
The young woman at the sink next to me asks, “Are you all right?”
“Yea, I’m OK. Just a bit banged up from a fall on the rocks. Thanks for asking.”
I didn’t even look up at her, so obsessed was I with examining my injury.
A few more wipes of the wet tissue later and she comes back to the bathroom and holds out two Band-Aids.
“These might help,” she says.
I look at her young face.
“Thank you so much. That was so kind of you.”
I could have fixed it with wadded-up toilet paper, but two clean sterile bandages was a much better option. Something I wouldn’t have sought out for myself, but this kind stranger did.
Neuroscience research has shown that people practicing compassionate kindness have a change in their brain structure showing much greater activity in areas of the brain supporting empathy and understanding.
What is interesting is that it is not only the giver– but also the receiver– who benefits from kindness with a brain boost. Here are three brain-based effects of giving –and receiving– kindness:
- Stimulation of Endorphins, a neurotransmitter which helps the neurons of the brain and nervous system create new connections. Endorphins are responsible for the good feeling we get after we do a hard workout, the proverbial ‘runners high.’ We are tired, spent, but feel great! The same thing happens when we are the giver or recipient of an act of kindness.
- Increase in Oxytocin, the bonding chemical. Oxytocin is best known for its important role in forming the mother-child connection and for the closeness we feel from a positive sexual experience. Recent research is also showing the importance of Oxytocin in developing trust, relieving stress, and fostering generosity.
- Increase in Serotonin, a neurochemical that helps us feel calm and happy, and also seems to play a role in blood clotting, thus being essential to—important in my case—wound healing.
The young woman was off on her hike by the time I left the bathroom. I had not had a chance to really thank her for the unexpected gift of Band-aids. My wound was cleaned up and nicely dressed, and the feel good energy generated by her small act of kindness stayed with me for hours afterwards.
When have you received – or given—an unexpected act of kindness? How did it make you feel??
Photo Credit: JMaliszewski, 2017.