Whatever you look for is what you’ll see. Don’t believe me? Think about your ex: ex-husband, ex-boyfriend, ex-wife. Since I’m a woman and I’m the one writing this, let’s pick on the men for a moment. When you first met this man, the love of your life, he could do no wrong. You were drawn to each other, the chemistry was right, and everything he did was cute and quirky.
The chemical reaction is gone, and all that’s left is this guy who snores, coughs without covering his mouth and leaves his stinky socks on the floor right next to the dirty laundry hamper. Would it be so hard to actually put them in the basket?
When you have one foot out the door, your mind begins to look for motivation to move the other foot out the door, too.
Here’s the good news: This process works in reverse, and it works on a much larger scale.
Researchers tell us that people who are kind focus more on positive social interactions. Instead of dwelling on the bad things that happen throughout the day, those who are intentionally kind begin magnifying and remembering the good.
Here’s the even better news: Kindness creates serotonin, one of the body’s four feel-good chemicals. Serotonin flows when you feel significant or important. In its absence, we feel lonely and depressed. In fact, most antidepressant medication focuses on the production of serotonin.
Here’s the best news: Your mind can’t tell the difference between real and imaginary scenarios, so it produces serotonin when you do an act of kindness and then again when you think about the act of kindness later. It’s why gratitude journals are so effective. You feel grateful and happy in the moment and then grateful and happy again when you reflect on it later in the day. Both times, your body produces serotonin as if it’s actually happening for the first time.
I vividly remember my state of mind when I started writing this kindness column five years ago. I’ll be honest. Life was pretty gray. I was depressed and used food, alcohol and other people’s drama to create some excitement in my life. And my marriage? Well, let me just say, my poor husband. The man couldn’t do anything right. My brain was trained to look for all the ways in which he failed me each day instead of all the ways he was getting it right.
One of the side effects of writing a weekly column about kindness is that I had to come up with new material every week. Sometimes readers would send in stories, just like they do now, but oftentimes I had to hunt down interesting acts of kindness. I had to look for them.
I had to be intentional, and that’s when the real benefits of kindness starting taking hold in my life. When I began to look for kindness around me, I found it. I found it at the grocery store and the airport and the bank, and most importantly, I found it in my own home.
Whether it’s a newly elected politician, a difficult co-worker or a worn-out spouse, if you’re looking for all the things they’re doing wrong, you’ll find them. Do yourself a favor and focus on what’s right. The serotonin is free for the taking.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.