Contagious Kindness

Contagious Kindness

We know that, when we perform kind acts for others, we help ourselves even more than we help them. Kindness is one of the best ways to cope with the misfortunes and worries in our own lives. It distracts us from our cares and gives us serenity, fulfillment, and joy.

We also know that the recipients of our kindness are inspired to be kind to us and/or others they encounter. Kindness is contagious from the kind actor to the recipient of her kindness.

And we know that it isn’t selfish to be kind to ourselves. As I’ve written before, it’s like being on a plane when the oxygen masks drop. You put on your own mask first. You can’t help your seatmate if you’re unconscious.[1]

Lately, however, I’ve been more than kind to myself. I have indulged myself. I’ve spent hours and hours watching old sitcoms, replaying the funniest scenes over and over. I lounge on the sofa listening to Jim Nabors sing. I daydream about things that make me feel happy, even exhilarated. Many days have passed without my doing a lick of work. I felt that both my mind and my body were telling me to pamper myself this way.

Maybe this was because, around the same time when I was safe, but marooned, because of hurricane Harvey, one of my loved ones had surgery for a serious injury. As if that weren’t enough, I had a malware scare that felt like my full-time job for several weeks—an intense, mind numbing job at that. My computer seemed like the hydra in Greek mythology; every time I cut off one of hydra’s heads, two more would emerge in its place.

As soon as this triple whammy of stress was resolved, my first impulse was to get back to work, make up for lost time. But I never made up for lost peace and serenity. Judging by how much better I’m feeling now—physically, mentally and emotionally, the messages my mind and body sent me were correct. It was healthy to indulge myself.

Yet, I felt a sort of nagging sense that I was overdoing the self indulgence. As you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting to my blog as often lately. I haven’t been as active on social media. I’ve been putting off just about every chore and errand for just about as long as I possibly can. I felt that I ought to be spending more time helping others.

But I’ve come to see that what I did for myself enabled me to do an even better job at kindness. Now that I’m so much happier, I find it easier than ever to smile at strangers I pass, and my smiles are bigger. It’s easier to compliment others or to take a moment to speak with cashiers, waiters, security guards, other shoppers at the supermarket. Such acts of kindness now come more spontaneously.

More importantly, my renewed serenity makes me more patient, calm and understanding of people. Thus, I do an even better job of practicing the skills I teach when I disagree or disapprove of things others say and do. I build better consensus, more easily and more often–better for me as well as for the other person. And so can you.

I’ll finish by quoting a favorite scene from the movie The Hobbit – an Unexpected Journey:

Galadriel: Mithrandir[2], why the halfling?

Gandalf: I do not know. Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I’ve found. I’ve found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay, simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.

What a concept! The presence of a three foot three inch hobbit gives courage to a powerful, but frightened, wizard because the hobbit is an ordinary, kindly person.

When have you experienced contagious kindness? I’d love to hear about it.

[1]See “How is Happiness Like an Oxygen Mask,

[2]“Mithrandir” is the elves’ name for Gandalf.


  1. Camille

    Liked your writing. Hits a chord.

  2. John Bockelman

    I have recently experienced similar situations with stress, motivation and idle restlessness. But putting projects off to give myself time to analyze, rest and put my thoughts in their proper order has been beneficial. Things worked out better than if I had acted on my trained impulses and gotten everything done when I had planned.

    You’re right about kindness being contagious. I encounter strangers with a smile and if I see an opportunity to hold the door open for a guy carrying his toddler or a lady approaching holding her handbag, I step aside and hold the door. They thank me.

    Yesterday I was in line at the souvenir shop of the Haak Winery in Santa Fe, Texas; the band I’m in played for their Memorial Day celebration…it was total chaos in that shop, packed with people all waiting to buy their stuff and get back to the pavilion for the concert. The guy next to me had a handful of goodies and I just had one bottle of Gatorade. I let him go ahead of me. He’s a customer. I’m an employee. He came up a quarter short, and I pitched in a quarter for him. Since that left me with only a 20 dollar bill to buy my $1.25 drink, the lady behind me paid for it to save a lot of money for me and the poor cashier, who was overwhelmed with customers in a hurry. The situation went from stress overload to good times and kindness from total strangers.

    Reading your posts has been like spiritual medication for me, Margaret…Thank you! JB

    • Thank you, John. I love your true story about the contagious kindness at the souvenir shop. Your “spiritual medication” comment really touched me, too. That’s the sort of thing that keeps me keeping on.

  3. Great post! you know my motto – Answer with love! We never know what’s behind the defensiveness, tenseness, or unkindness we often meet in others. Often a kind acknowledgment or gesture is all that is needed to touch hearts and turn anger or frustration into a pleasant interaction.

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