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The man checking out at the cash register was three dollars short to pay for his groceries. As the cashier began pulling things out of his bag to cover the money he was short, I grabbed for my wallet. Before I could get the three dollars 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 was phenomenal, two strangers at the same time offering to cover the money. It reminded me of the movie Pass It Forward I said. No. I was corrected by the guy in front of me 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 terminology, “totally losing it.”

He surprised everybody by saying he would tell them (paraphrasing), to find someone less fortunate than themselves, and go help them. Dr. Menninger knew a secret that many people still don’t. It’s better to give than to receive. It’s the power of unselfishness.

Unselfishness takes the focus off of yourself and puts it onto someone else that needs your help. Your altruistic actions result in a reward. This reward comes in the release of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters that produce the good feeling you experience. When you take your eyes off of yourself to do something for someone else, it always ends in feeling good emotionally and mentally 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 bus seat when the woman 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 for this assignment was to allow them to experience the “good feeling” that comes from doing something beyond yourself and for someone else. 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 and get your mind off of your problems for a while. Dear Abby and Miss Manners, where are you when we need you?

Back to the young man in the story above. Notice how a homework task that had been given brought about a change in his future behavior. Old behavior, keep the phone. New behavior, return the phone. What can be missed is how the homework assignment replaced an old thought with a new one in his thinking. And that thought had the ability to change his behavior.

It is important that the person doing the act of kindness connects with the positive feelings that come with the act to keep it going. Maybe you have not experienced this “good feeling” in a long time. Every time you do an act of kindness the good feelings will flow, bring with it good mental, emotional, and physical 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.