Kindness is Contagious

Bill Fenwick, founding partner of the great Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West, has had a lifelong practice of doing at least 10 kind things for people every day without expectation of reciprocation. He attributes many of the positive things in his life to this practice.
Recent research shows that even small kindnesses have a ripple effect through society. The excellent film “Kindness is Contagious” explores this idea:
In 2010, James Fowler published “Cooperative behavior cascades in human social networks” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He found that each act of kindness led to an average of 3 new acts of kindness in a kind of chain reaction:

The results suggest that each additional contribution a subject makes to the public good in the first period is tripled over the course of the experiment by other subjects who are directly or indirectly influenced to contribute more as a consequence.

Here’s a good summary of the work. And this summary describes the impact of uncooperative behavior:

The contagious effect in the study was symmetric; uncooperative behavior also spread, but there was nothing to suggest that it spread any more or any less robustly than cooperative behavior, Fowler said.

Adam Grant’s excellent book “Give and Take” has related insights:
Witnessing acts of kindness and compassion causes a positive physiological shift in the viewer called “moral elevation”:
New insights are emerging from the study of the “Neuroscience of Empathy“. Empathy can be cultivated through simple practices like “Metta meditation”:

Many studies have shown that mindfulness meditation that includes LKM (loving-kindness meditation) can rewire your brain. Practicing LKM is easy. All you have to do is take a few minutes everyday to sit quietly and systematically send loving and compassionate thoughts to: 1) Family and friends. 2) Someone with whom you have tension or a conflict. 3) Strangers around the world who are suffering. 4) Self-compassion, forgiveness and self-love to yourself.

Doing this simple 4-step LKM practice literally rewires your brain by engaging neural connections linked to empathy. You can literally feel the tumblers in your brain shift and open up to empathy by spending just a few minutes going through this systematic LKM practice.

Check out this inspiring little film demonstrating the “Kindness Boomerang”:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s