I plopped into my seat, ready for the quick hour and a half flight from San Jose to Seattle. I wore a smile on my face; I was pleased with the way the day was going and excited to catch up with some friends in the Pacific Northwest. Luckily, I had built out some time to get dinner this evening and crash with a buddy, while on a business trip. I immediately struck up a conversation with the gentlemen next to me.
“On the way home?” he inquired.
“Not quite. Heading up for business. And you?” I answered.
“Very nice. Going to see the in-laws.”
“Ah! What an honor,” I joked “nothing quite like the out-laws.”
“You better be careful!” he said laughing. “My wife might hear you. She’s right behind you.”
With that, I looked back and introduced myself to his wife, who sat directly behind us. They were a pleasant couple, probably in their early sixties. I found it rather odd that they were separated for the duration of the flight and thought it would be a nice gesture to offer a swap of seats. (Honestly, it was the least I could do after overtly insulting the woman’s parents: classic D.J.)
What happened next was expected. The woman politely accepted my offer, smiled, got up, and switched seats with me. What was not expected however, were the smiles I received from the passengers nearby. Those who were eavesdropping (probably forcefully, I am pretty obnoxiously loud) appreciated the small gesture I made, displaying it outwardly.
The combination of personal fulfillment and social proof of my small favor left me feeling pretty damn good. As Simon Sinek elaborates on in his novel Leaders Eat Last¸ I experienced a burst of oxytocin within my body and, man, did it feel amazing. Consequently, those around me, as well as the couple I engaged with, also felt a similar release in oxytocin. It was truly a win-win for everyone.
Oxytocin and other biochemical releases are not something that I am going to focus on in too much depth, but there are some important high-level takeaways. First and foremost, oxytocin release feels amazing. It is known as the “love chemical” and is the feeling you get when you deeply connect with someone on an emotional level and/or feel that you can trust that person. Also, its release has many health benefits including the inhibition of addiction, as well as depression prevention. Finally, it is contagious; not only do you bring positive emotion to yourself, you also spread this feeling to anyone paying attention in the vicinity.
Why do you think people love watching shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Biggest Loser, or any of the other “feel good” productions? It has a lot to with the oxytocin that is released when we see help given to those that need it the most. When Ty Pennington builds a brand new home for someone who is less fortunate, we fell satisfied and inspired by human beings that did the right thing and helped each other out.
There are varying levels of impact of the chemical’s effect, but the most sure-fire way to gain its benefits is to help people out by doing the right thing. When someone drops a stack of papers on the side walk, take a second and help them pick up the loose-leaf. When someone has only a few items and is behind you at the grocery store, offer to let them go ahead of you. If someone is dressed stunningly, don’t hesitate to let them know you admire their style. You get the point. These random acts of kindness can really add up over the course of a week or month.
The caveat however, is to perform these acts of kindness with no expectation of reward. Just genuinely add value to other people’s lives because you want to. You will be surprised how many doors can be opened and how many friendships can be made with this attitude.
With that in mind, be conscious of the magnitude of your gestures. My personal rule of thumb is that it is perfectly acceptable to spend your time and energy on a random act of kindness, but never money (maybe a $1 for a donation here and there). Spending money is a direct indicator that you are looking for something in return and is likely solicited by scam artists. Stick to offering your presence; it will release much more oxytocin.
I encourage you to find a way to bring random acts of kindness to those around you every day. No matter how big or small, there is always an opportunity to brighten someone’s day. Whether it’s an old friend, a new acquaintance, or a random stranger, find a way to give genuine value consistently.
Published on 7/6/2015 at 4:17 PM PST