Successful Aging: Why acts of kindness help us all
This week’s column focuses on one word: Kindness.
I had the opportunity to co-facilitate several discussion groups with mid-to-later-life career women who are part of Renewment, a movement that supports and inspires the transition of career women from work to retirement and beyond.
Meeting monthly via Zoom, we discuss topics that matter. The recent discussions on kindness were so rich, inspiring and informative, I wanted to share some of the themes and comments in the words of our women – from across the country. Note, Renewment is a cross between retirement and renewal. (See renewment.org).
Highlights suggesting advice:
“Kindness is free and should be practiced generously; there is so much kindness around us that we cannot see.”
“I told my students in a university leadership class that assertiveness and clarity were important in maintaining one’s leadership position. I ended my lecture with, ‘Yet kindness may reap the greatest reward.’ My students gave me a standing ovation.”
“So often it is easy to extend kindness; not so easy to accept it. When you are the recipient, you have no control; you are vulnerable. Accepting kindness gives others the opportunity to be kind.
Highlights on being the recipient of acts of kindness.
“Radiation was part of my cancer treatment. My sister accompanied me in the early hours of the morning in freezing temperatures for 17 straight mornings just to be with me. She kept me going.”
“We were in a jungle village in Sri Lanka as Peace Corps Volunteers. My husband was recruited by the World Health Organization to travel around the island for two days, photographing healthcare advances. That evening, I was ushered to the carpenter’s hut. Village women – my friends – had made a bed for me on the carpenter’s wooden workbench. Those women then formed a human circle on the ground around me, sitting up all night, to protect me while I slept.”
“I had a difficult pregnancy with an erroneous diagnosis of carrying a baby with Down’s syndrome. Three or four groups of women cared for me during this time.”
“Immediately after my husband died, my house was a mess as I was dealing with the loss and my grief. A friend came to my home and asked if she could put some of the things away, clear the table and organize other things. She did just that.”
“My grant on mental health and aging was not renewed. I wrote about our program and mentioned that funding had stopped. After the article was published, a modest couple entered my office. The man wore trousers with suspenders. After a brief discussion, the couple presented me with a check for $25,000 and continued with multiple donations.
“When I was crossing the Bay Bridge, the car in front of me paid my toll fee.”
“My grandson said, ‘I love you, grandma, and how is your hip feeling?’”
Highlights on extending acts of kindness
“I adopted a dog who needed an EKG.”
“I write handwritten thank-you notes to all of my customers and expect nothing in return.”
“When walking on the beach, I smile at others; they smile back at me. I see them regularly and feel as though they are my friends.”
“I let someone go ahead of me in the grocery store line.”
“I packed 200 dinners for the Hollywood Food Bank.”
“I disinvited a friend for Thanksgiving dinner because she was not Covid vaccinated. It was an act of kindness for my husband who is immune compromised. The woman never forgave me. Unfortunately, she subsequently died of cancer. I attended her funeral, which I consider an act of kindness.”
Kindness and later life.
“As I grow older, I am kinder and notice acts of kindness more frequently.”
“The older I get, the more opportunities I see to express kindness.”
“With age, I am more vulnerable, empathetic and kinder as well.”
“With age and retirement, I have more time to extend kindness.”
Expressing acts of kindness is good for aging well. One reason is that it counters the stress effect by boosting hormones such as oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood.
The UK Mental Health Foundation writes that kindness needs to be part of business decisions, government policy and other systems that can support mental health and reduce discrimination and inequality. Clearly, action and words matter.
So, dear readers, I hope these examples inspire you and affirm what you already are doing. Let’s all try to do a bit more for our own well-being and that of our community, family, friends and even strangers. One by one, we are agents of change through our random and intentional acts of kindness.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity