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Paying it Forward

A person pays for the coffees of the next 10 people in line. You watch a teenager help an elderly woman across the street. You’re short a quarter at the till and the person behind you offers up some change. Got the warm fuzzies yet?
There’s nothing quite like an act of kindness to leave us feeling uplifted about the good in the world. When someone does something nice for us the reward centre in our brain is activated, flooding us with positive feelings and empathy. This empathy is what leads us to want to do something nice for others in turn – this is what’s known as the “pay it forward” effect. Even being a witness to an act of kindness can inspire us to do good for others.
In fact, doing something nice for another person has a greater impact on our health and wellbeing than being the recipient. The “helper’s high” lowers stress and blood pressure, increases self-esteem, optimism and energy and makes us feel more connected to others. It’s made up of many feel-good hormones like endorphins, the brain’s natural painkiller and oxytocin, the love hormone. Oxytocin in particular plays a role in why we seek and find comfort from social support in times of stress.
In the case of an extreme life event or disaster like the wildfires in Fort McMurray, the ripple effects from acts of kindness can travel throughout a community. Stories like people bringing fuel to stranded motorists and opening up their homes to strangers defy the notion that disasters bring out the worst in people.
But small acts of kindness can be just that, like holding the door for another person or giving up your seat on the train. Even a smile can make a difference. The first time I flew solo with my 5-month old issues with the plane forced us to board, prepare for takeoff but disembark before taking off. This happened twice and caused a five hour delay at the terminal while my stroller remained on the plane. By the time we were finally in the air, sometime around midnight, I couldn’t help but cry too as I tried to rock my daughter to sleep, knowing surrounding passengers were beyond frustrated. It was at that moment a man a few rows ahead turned in his seat and gave me the most heartfelt smile. It was like a hug, full of encouraging supportive energy and remains a shining light in an otherwise terrible memory. 
So next time you want to feel good, consider volunteering, giving a gift or donating to charity, picking up litter or writing a thank you note. What acts of kindness have you experienced that inspired you to pay it forward?