Some people have a hard time practicing kindness. Oh they are sweethearts to the people they love or care about and to anyone in their inner circle of friends. But if you are not part of their tribe, they don’t feel the need to waste their energy being kind you. These are the people who cut you off. They don’t smile at strangers or wave at other runners in passing. They don’t make their children give up his or her seat for an elderly passenger on a full train. They don’t call and thank you for sending them a gift. They don’t ask how you are feeling when you’ve been sick. And most likely they don’t read my blog.
Let’s be honest—these people don’t seem all that happy either. And while we are being honest, let’s admit that often we are talking about ourselves here. What do happiness and practicing kindness have in common? Everything. I really believe that. Think of the kindest person you know. I mean really know—not Mother Teresa or Gandhi—but your Aunt Gloria, your husband or your 5th grade teacher. Whoever they are, I bet they are not only the kindest person you know, but they are also one of the happiest people too.
Which one comes first—kindness or happiness? It doesn’t really matter. Kindness begets happiness; happiness begets kindness. It’s essentially a feedback loop. In your body, a feedback loop is when one part of your body sends a message to another to work, and that other part of your body sends back the message saying it’s working. Since I know a thing or two about broken pituitary glands, let’s use it as our simplified example. Your pituitary gland is a pea size gland that hangs from a thread from your brain. In sends hormone messages out to your thyroid, adrenals, breasts, ovaries and testicle organs to work and in response—as long as they are working—they send a message back saying “copy that, we are doing our job.” One problem happens when the feedback loop is broken by a dysfunction in the message sending. If your pituitary doesn’t send the original message telling your thyroid to work, your thyroid stops working. If your pituitary sends the message but your thyroid is not working optimally and doesn’t respond right way, the pituitary tries sending a bigger and louder message and it overloads the thyroid, which in turn gets burnt out and can completely shuts down. Both messages are needed for the feedback loop to work in your body and some pituitary messages are actually needed to survive. A number of autoimmune diseases cause these types of dysfunctions in your feedback loops to happen. There is your autoimmune disease lesson for the day.
Now that you understand the basics of how a simplified feedback loop works, let's apply it to kindness and happiness. When you send out kindness, life responds with light, love, and joy—the elements of happiness. Your happiness receives the message that kindness is necessary for it to survive, in which happiness replies to kindness “roger that, I’m sprinkling this shit like glitter; keep reminding me though.” I don’t believe you can have one without the other. Earlier, I had you think of the kindest person you know; now think of the most unhappy person that you really know. I bet you rarely, if ever, feel any kindness from them. Their kindness-happiness feedback loop is broken. There’s a lot of broken kindness-happiness feedback loops out there. In fact, your own might be broken.
So you might be wondering, can a broken feedback loop be fixed? In the body, not always. This I know for certain. But sometimes it can and when it can, it usually happens by somehow stimulating the part that is dysfunctioning to remind it how good things used to be when it worked properly. Same is true with a broken kindness-happiness feedback loop. Practice more kindness and you will feel your mood lighten. Work on being joyful and you will inadvertently show more kindness to others.
Do I really think it is that simple? You bet I do. I can’t count the number of times I am feeling in a funk, but as soon as I smile at a stranger or hold the door open for a mother with their SUV size stroller, I actually feel my mood lighten. That’s not a coincidence. Or how about the mornings when I actually wake up on the right side of the bed. The birds are chirping, I actually make it through my 5 minute meditation, the dog does her business in a timely manner—these are the days that I find myself giving much more of myself than I even want to receive.
Kindness begets happiness, happiness begets kindness. It's a feedback loop. You need one for the other to work. And here's the cool thing, even if you just try this for the purely selfish reason of having a happier life, other people will benefit from your experiment and it will inadvertently set an example to them to stimulate their own kindness-happiness feedback loop.
Go ahead, give it a try. Let's call it our secret experiment. But make sure you are actually practicing some of those random acts of kindness we hear so much about. Sprinkle kindness on friends, strangers, animals (come on, I'm vegan, you can't expect me not to throw that one in), the earth. Live your life joyfully and with passion. And see how they really do feed off each other. Please report back in the comments below!