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Science Of Kindness Shows Even Tiniest Acts Have Big Impacts

OREM, Utah – Valentine’s Day is traditionally celebrated with hearts, cupid and expressions of romantic love. But this year, KSL is focusing on a different type of love, looking at one that society craves — kindness.

According to experts, there are scientific reasons behind the healing power of small, everyday acts of kindness.

Provo-native Rachel Hunt Steenblik will never forget the day she received some devastating news.

“Nine days after I got to China, I found out that my brother passed away,” she said. “He died from a heroin overdose.”

Rachel Hunt Steenblik lost her brother to a heroin overdose.

She understood in those moments and the year to come how powerful kindness could be.

“It was different and harder than I imagined and all of a sudden I’m in a new country, away from all of my family,” she said.

Hunt Steeblik thought back to a simple act that made a profound difference.

“My 10-year-old niece saw me crying. She gave me the biggest hug and then later I went to my room in my parents’ house where I was staying and she’d lined up all of my children’s shoes,” she said. “She made my bed for me and cleaned my room.”

It was such a tiny gesture, “but what they did for me was so big,” Hunt Steeblik said.

Rachel Hunt Steenblik will always remember when her 10-year-old niece lined up her family’s shoes and cleaned her room.

She found paying attention to kind acts helped her through her pain.

“I really needed to find a way to carry my mourning in a way that let me survive it,” she said.

Hunt Steenblik knew she wasn’t the only one who could benefit.

“I realized that this would be a really good time to start this project to intentionally look for goodness and to look for kindness because I had to try,” she said.

So last fall, she launched “Tiny Kindness” on social media. With the project, Hunt Steenblik shares stories people submit of small kindnesses.

It has attracted a global audience and shined a light on the healing power of kindness.

“It just was like so clear that so many people needed this,” she said.

In just three months, Tiny Kindness has gained more than 14,000 followers on Instagram.

Rachel Hunt Steenblik posts stories of kindness on social media. In just three months, her Tiny Kindness account has gained more than 14,000 followers.

“What it turned into is so much more beautiful than I could have pictured,” Hunt Steeblik described.

The stories include simple acts like an elderly man holding an umbrella over a mom and baby as they crossed the street. That mom wrote, “I will never, ever forget the feeling of being seen and loved in that way.”

Research shows those acts of kindness can actually be good for your health.

Science Of Kindness

“In that when we take care of others in a meaningful, humble, forgiving way, we feel better,” said University of Utah Dr. Kirtly Jones.

Turns out, there is science behind those warm fuzzies people feel when they are either the recipient or giver of a kind act.

Jones said being kind releases hormones in the reward system of the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins.

“So if you do kind things to others, your serotonin levels may go up,” she explained.

Studies show deliberate, selfless acts of kindness can have a positive effect on your mental and physical well-being, like improved heart health and a strengthened immune system.

“Kindness actually lowers your blood pressure,” Jones said. “Being angry makes you inflamed, and inflammation increases coronary artery disease. So if you are calmer, you have less inflammation and you’re less likely to do damage to the lining of the big vessels of your heart — less heart attacks, less hypertension, and less stroke.”

Jones said being kind can even reduce physical pain.

“People who practice kindness meditation actually have fewer physical symptoms,  whether it’s their arthritis or whether it’s a musculoskeletal problem,” she said.

Studies also show being kind towards another person can boost happiness. “You can help people who are chronically anxious and depressed if you move them out of themselves,” Jones said.

Hunt Steenblik isn’t the only one seeing a need for more kindness. There are lots of social media accounts focusing on and celebrating those tiny acts, like “Good News Movement” where a former journalist post only positive stories.

Some of her posts include a delivery man shoveling a snowy walk for a stranger before dropping off a package, a waiter feeding a mother’s baby in a restaurant so she could also eat and a police officer pumping gas for an elderly woman.

“There are reasons for people to feel afraid or to feel sad about some of the things happening in the world or in our own country,” Hunt Steenblik said, adding there is a growing hunger in our world for kindness.

Even some of the biggest celebrities are taking note. During his acceptance speech at NBC’s Golden Globes award show, Brad Pitt suggested, “Hey, if you see a chance to be kind to someone tomorrow, take it. I think we need it.”

If being kind doesn’t come naturally, don’t worry. Jones said it’s something people can develop.

“You can kind of exercise your kindness genes or your kindness memory loops,” she said.

But she added it will require some effort. “We first have to think about it,” Jones said.

At a public event designed to help people exercise their kindness muscles, Hunt Steenblik teamed up with Tiny Art Show at the Orem Public Library for an event where people wrote tiny letters of kindness to strangers.

Joey Stewart and his family dropped off their notes in the “Positive Post Office” and picked up a letter to read in return.

At a public event in Orem, people wrote tiny letters of kindness to strangers.

He read the note to his daughters. “Isn’t that so nice?” he asked.

Stewart wanted his girls to remember: “The idea that even the smallest things often make the biggest differences in people’s lives.”

Even if it’s tiny, “I think we have a responsibility to at least try,” Hunt Steenblik said. “The fact is that we’re here like with each other. We’re not here by ourselves.”

Although we live in a world of increasing strife and divisiveness, we can choose to be kind.

“Once you look for kindness, you can see it,” she said. “And so kindness is never tiny.”

Jones said being kind can create a domino effect.

“So thinking about kindness, turns on your kindness switch,” she said. “This is the only world we know and we need to be kind to each other.”

Kindness is contagious and KSL wants to spread that throughout Utah. We want to hear about the simple acts of kindness you’ve received. Either email or use #KSLKindness and we’ll share your stories online for Valentine’s Day. You might be surprised — once you start reading about all the acts of kindness, you might be inspired to do something kind yourself.

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