I recently read about a new blog started by a man who wanted to do one act of kindness a day for the entire year in celebration of his daughter’s birth.
So far, he has done things like buy lunch for firefighters, put change in vending machines, compliment strangers, and let people go ahead of him at stop signs and elevators.
On Valentine’s Day, he gave out cards to people on the street.
He will continue his acts of kindness for the rest of the year.
As I read his daily activities, I found myself wondering two things: (1) what the world would be like if everyone did this and (2) (because I love brain science) how altruism works in the brain.
In case you’re also curious about #2, I want to share some insight from the neuroscience world.
In a 2007 Science paper, Dr. W.T. Harbaugh and his colleagues found that both required giving (e.g. to the IRS) and charitable giving activated the nucleus accumbens, which is thought to play an important role in reward and pleasure.
Another 2007 paper, this time published in Nature Neuroscience by Dharol Tankersley and colleagues from Duke University Medical Center, suggested that activation of the posterior superior temporal cortex predicts helping behavior.
According to David Linden, PhD, in his book The Compass of Pleasure, the circuit shown to be activated by Harbaugh during charitable giving is the same part of the pleasure circuit that’s activated by things like exercise.
Research still needs to be done to determine whether altruism can make positive changes in the brain through neuroplasticity.
For now though, I love this idea of doing an act of kindness every day.
This is one idea that I really hope catches on.
Have you ever incorporated ideas of altruism or kindness into treatment with any of your patients? Would you ever suggest a daily act of kindness to one of your patients? Please leave a comment below.