February 17th is Random acts of kindness day
It has been known for some time that the act of doing something for someone without wanting or needing pay back is good for the brain as well as the soul.
It all starts with the brain’s reward system releasing dopamine when you receive a favour, like a lift to work, or a making a cup of coffee – it makes us feel good. Researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison proved recently that we can be trained to be more compassionate. Apparently frequent bouts of altruistic behaviour changes in our neural systems. I often teach clients not to be just mindful of thoughts and of the body and breath, but to think about someone they love, then someone they know who is suffering and send out love to them, and then try it on a person you really don’t like. If you can manage that it can help stop being stressed about your boss for example.
The random element added to a kind action dramatically increases the feelings of pleasure it triggers hence changes the brain. If someone always makes us a cup of coffee we become acclimatised to that and it doesn’t trigger the feelings.
And it’s not just in the recipient – giving makes us feel better too. How many people have felt better when helping out a friend? I know I do, and the research into the type of meditation that helps expand the positive thinking part of the brain, is all about compassion and thinking positive feelings towards other people.
So today, why not give it a go and do something nice for a neighbour, help out a stranger in need, make your nearest and dearest a dinner they won’t forget. Buy a friend some flowers or compliment your friends on Facebook. Whatever you do just note how you feel when you’ve achieved it – that’ll be the dopamine.