The man checking out at the cash register was three dollars short to pay for his groceries. The cahier had begun to pull things out of his bag to cover the money he was short. I grabbed for my wallet to get the three dollars when the man in front of me told the cashier he would pay for it. I had lost out on doing a good deed.
Standing there, I said that what had happened reminded me of the movie, “Pass It Forward.” I was corrected by the guy who had footed the three dollars; it was “Pay It Forward.” The cashier then spoke up and said at times he will pay when a customer is short. Just talking with these two guys gave me a good feeling as I left the store.
A renowned psychiatrist of the past century, Karl Menninger, who founded the Menninger Psychiatric Clinic, was asked by a reporter what he would tell a person who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, in today’s term. “totally losing it.”
He surprised everybody by saying he would tell them (paraphrasing), to find someone less fortunate than themselves, and help them. Dr. Menninger knew a secret that many people don’t. It’s the power of unselfishness. Unselfishness takes the focus off of yourself and puts it onto someone else that needs your help. Your actions result in a reward, the release of brain chemicals called endorphins, which produces the good feeling you are experiencing. When you take your eyes off of yourself to do something for someone else, it always ends in feeling good – feeling good emotionally and feeling good about yourself.
I regularly ran Corrective Thinking groups for delinquent adolescents while working at the Department of Juvenile Justice in Las Vegas, Nevada. One of the class exercises I would have the kids do was to do a “random act of kindness to a stranger.” The adolescents would have to report back to class what kindness they had done, what the person said to them afterward, and how they felt when it was over. These young people reported returning wallets and money that had fallen out of people’s pockets or purses, buying food for or giving money to the homeless, and other smaller acts like opening the door for someone.
One boy returned an iPhone that had fallen on the seat when the person next to him stood to go to the exit. As she was getting off of the bus, he yelled to her, “I have your iPhone and returned it to her.” When asked how it made him feel he said, “Really good.” I then asked what he would have done if he had not had the assignment of an act of kindness. He said, “Kept it.”
The reason I had the kids do this assignment was for them to experience the “good feeling” that comes from doing something for someone. Acts of kindness are not just for delinquent adolescents to learn and experience, they are for every one of us who have forgotten what it feels like to do a good deed. Dear Abby and Miss Manners, where are you when we need you.
As a culture, we are becoming more self-absorbed as people focus on being the next YouTube star. To help someone, you have to get past yourself.
Back to the young man in the story above. Notice how a homework task that had been given brought about a change in his behavior. Old behavior, keep the phone. New behavior, return the phone. What can be missed is that the homework assignment was a thought that was placed into his thinking. And that thought had the ability to change his behavior.
It is important that the person doing the act of kindness connects his positive feelings to what had just been done. If you are like many of the delinquent youth I worked with, you have not experienced this “good feeling” in a long time Once you have had this experience, every time you practice a random act of kindness, the good feelings continue. There is also the bonus of improving your brain health, which improves mental health.
A side note: Your behavior is always a choice, whether you do or do not do something. Helping someone is a simple choice you make to do something positive for someone else in need, which in turn helps your mental and emotional health.
Take a minute today and see if there is not someone around you that you can do an act of kindness for today, or tomorrow, even next week. And then wait for the good feelings to come.
To learn some tips on how to control your emotions, change bad behavior and improve your life, purchase my book “Take Control of Your Life” now or contact me today to schedule a free introductory personal life coaching assessment.
As an expert in emotional intelligence, He also delivers keynotes, small group presentations and seminars for companies and organizations striving for effective communication, leadership and team performance.