by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

As children most of us are taught to mind our manners and treat others as we would like to be treated; it is, after all, the golden rule. But as we grow up our priorities and responsibilities change — work, mortgages, kids, bills, plus endless streams of chores and errands to juggle. The weight of that alone is enough to make our manners slip. And since we can't expect our parents to follow us around reminding us to behave, it's our personal responsibility to act with respect. This makes the lives of others more pleasant, sets a good example and, in return, improves our health.

It's widely accepted that attitude has an impact on our physical selves, for example:

  • Reducing stress is beneficial to — and in some cases, necessary for — good health and well-being.
  • Maintaining a positive outlook seems to help patients recover from surgery or battle serious illnesses.
  • Acts of kindness have been proven to reduce stress and improve outlook. Incorporating a kindness campaign into your wellness repertoire can add a new dimension to your program offerings.

Sound Mind, Sound Body

Remind participants that small gestures make a mind and body feel good. This boost isn't prideful; it's strictly science. Acts of benevolence trigger our bodies to release endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. This rush of endorphins can create a brief sense of elation and a longer-lasting feeling of calmness.

Allan Luks, author of The Healing Power of Doing Good: The Health and Spiritual Benefits of Helping Others, surveyed 3000 volunteers to discover how good deeds make people feel. The results highlighted an indisputable link between altruism and good health. Survey respondents report euphoria after helping others — a feeling Luks dubbed the "helper's high.”

Increase Kindness — Reduce Stress

As this and other surveys show, mind and body are closely connected. Regular feelings of stress can cause or aggravate conditions such as ulcers, high blood pressure, depression, headaches, insomnia, heart palpitations, and muscle aches. Behind legitimate illness, stress is a main cause of employee absenteeism, finds a survey of HR managers by CCH, Inc., a Chicago research firm.

Dr. Dean Ornish (president and director of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito CA) conducted research on how to repair some of the damage of heart disease. He maintains that, in conjunction with healthy eating habits, less stress lowers cholesterol levels and reduces fatty buildup in the arteries.

Decreasing stress also has a positive impact on patients with diabetes, particularly type 2. Stress raises glucose in the blood by heightening release of the hormones cortisol and epinephrine. With diabetes the body doesn't produce enough insulin (or respond properly to insulin) to process the stress-induced sugar levels.

As your participants become more conscious of kind actions, stress can begin to decline — a change that will benefit their health and your organization.

The Power of Optimism

A kindness campaign that improves the attitude of your participants will have a trickle-down effect on others as well. The positive state of mind that results from kindness can improve or maintain heart health. In fact, a University of Pittsburgh study found that women with an optimistic outlook have less thickening of the carotid arteries. And preliminary research shows attitude may also bolster the immune system. A UCLA study of HIV-positive men concludes optimism is associated with a stronger immune-cell function.

Volunteering, helping others, and exhibiting other acts of kindness can enhance mood — improving overall vitality.

Creating a Kindness Campaign

As a different approach to wellness, a kindness campaign adds variety and interest. The benefits are numerous: more harmonious environment, reduced stress levels, lower absenteeism, and better health. Here are some tips for promoting and implementing a kindness program in your organization.

Promoting Your Program

  • Post signs with phrases like "Please," "Thank You," and "You're Welcome" in large text; in small text include registration details
  • Pass around a "hot potato" — kindness style; write "Pass it on!" and program basics on a rock or ball and see how fast it travels through your organization
  • Send an email describing your program theme, benefits, and how to register
  • Have staff members wear smiley face T-shirts, pins, or stickers as they distribute program details.

Activities and Events

  • Distribute information about the positive health effects of kindness through a newsletter or interoffice mail
  • Send daily emails with suggestions for ways to be kind
  • Sponsor a showing of the movie Pay It Forward
  • Download free materials and resources from
  • Recruit teams for a charity walk
  • Hold a blood drive
  • Create volunteer groups for local charities, nursing homes, schools, or community events
  • Invite an expert to speak at a kindness-boosting, stress-reducing lunch-and-learn
  • Give participants small "Thanks for your kindness" cards to distribute to colleagues who do something nice for them; offer prizes for people who collect a certain number of cards
  • Ask participants to submit stories of kindness they'd like to share.

The wellness benefits of kindness are far reaching — even little deeds can brighten the recipient's day, but the giver may benefit even more.


# Megan 2017-12-14 16:48
Great article that may give us some ideas.
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# Amy 2017-12-14 16:48
Great article that may give us some ideas to work with.

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# MJ Shaar 2016-02-18 21:55
Yes, yes, yes! So happy when I see positive psychology being included not only in the how, but directly in the what of health promotion! It's such a natural fit, but many either fail to see it, or are too scared to move away from the more traditional approaches. Great post, Dean! Hope many read it and give it a shot.
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# William B. Baun 2016-02-17 14:01
Caring is a value and a big deal at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Over the years we have held "random acts of kindness" days, weeks, and sometimes months. They have a deep meaning because of our value of caring.

Several weeks ago I was at a CDC event with Dee Edington, and he and I were addressing "leadership". Dee did what he has so often done for this field made a statement that made us all stop and reflect deeply. Dee said, "we have to move past a culture of health, and consider how we create and sustain cultures of caring." A culture where employees take responsibility for caring for themselves and their families, where teams support / care for each other, and the organization has a value of caring and sets up an environment where the easy choice is the caring choice. Kindness is one of the blossoms in a caring culture.
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