Imagine you have the last $20 for the week, and you’re at the store to buy groceries. A stranger pays for you, saving you that money. You’d feel touched, right? And that person would feel good too, connecting both of you in a random yet positive act of kindness.

This is the sort of kindness that BBVA Compass, a bank, encourages in its employees. To help its people live the brand purpose of ‘banking on a brighter future’, the organization put together a bank it forward day where employees were encouraged to use $25 and perform random acts of kindness in their community. The initiative was so successful that 98% of employees who participated said they’d absolutely do it again!

Why does kindness make us happy and what’s the science surrounding it? Here’s what we found out:

  • We are wired for kindness. The warm, fuzzy feeling we experience when we watch, do, or receive a kind gesture, is called moral elevation, says Huffington Post. It has its origins in our nervous system. Research shows that both the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts of the brain were active in students, when they watched videos showing heroic acts of kindness. Watching someone in distress activates the fight-or-flight response, and when the trouble is soothed, we experience a calming effect. That’s where the warm, happy feeling comes in.
  • Kindness can be contagious. The same study suggests that our body’s positive response makes us more willing to be altruistic. But there’s more to our kindness than biology. Jamil Zaki, psychology researcher at Stanford, says that kindness is contagious. People ‘catch’ positive actions such as cooperation and generosity from others, and imitate it too. That explains why, in a study, people who were made to believe they lived in a generous world, gave three-fourths of their bonus to charity. While only one-fourth did from the group, where they were made to believe they lived in a stingy world.
  • Kindness improves our wellbeing. While reviewing research on the link between kindness and happiness, researchers found that kindness makes a small but significant improvement in our well-being. According to Dr. Oliver Scott Curry, kindness helps nudge our life in the right direction, but doesn’t change it completely. So, it’s essential to have realistic expectations from a ‘happy to help’ culture at work and not get steered by pop psychology claims.

The learning – making kindness a part of the company culture can create a workplace thriving on positivity, acceptance, and purpose. Like SAP and BBVA Compass are modeling. Such companies, where people feel valued, outperform their peers on growth parameters like revenue, employment, and stock price. If you’d like to take a step in this direction, begin at the top. As the research on emotional contagion says, people are more likely to catch the emotions of their leader.

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