Have you seen the “pay it forward” commercials by Liberty Mutual?

In one of them, a woman grabs the arm of a pizza delivery guy before he crosses the street so he won’t get hit by a car. A man in a coffee shop across the street who happens to be looking out the window and sees the woman grab the pizza delivery guy’s arm is then shown helping a lady with a baby stroller get off the bus. Another man sitting at the bus stop watches this, and you see him in the next scene helping someone at work get something down from a shelf that’s too high. And the commercial keeps looping like this until you see the first woman again… and the kind act she witnessed that inspired her to grab the arm of the pizza deliver guy.

That commercial gives me the warm fuzzies. It makes me feel happy whenever I see it.

Although we already know that performing acts of kindness like those shown in the commercial create positive feelings and increase happiness, there are studies that back it up, too. But those studies also revealed that it's not just performing acts of kindness, it's watching acts of kindness being performed too. Researcher and psychologist Dr. Jonathan Haidt found that simply watching acts of kindness led subjects to having pleasant physical sensations and feelings, and it increased their desire to perform acts of kindness.

That explains why I really enjoy those Liberty Mutual commercials.

Practicing kindness is one of the most effortless of the mindsets to create because it’s usually pretty easy to find something to compliment your friend about, and it’s usually easy to do a household chore for a family member. I love it when my husband pops up from his chair to help me fold the laundry. It makes me want to do favors for him, like loading the dishwasher after he’s cooked our dinner or putting a fresh towel in the bathroom for him before he takes a shower.

Robert Cialdini, professor of psychology at Arizona State University and author of the book, Influence, studies the effect of such exchanges, calling this desire to do something for another because that person has done something for you as the Power of Reciprocity. He explains reciprocity as an inherent rule that is “deeply implanted in us by the process of socialization that we all undergo.” The origins of this impulse to be obligated to give something for getting something comes from human social evolution “because it meant that one person could give something (for example, food, energy, care) to another with confidence that the gift was not being lost… The result was the lowering of the natural inhibitions against transactions that must be begun by one person’s providing personal resources to another.” So, basically, he’s saying that we can’t help ourselves when it comes to practicing kindness in return for receiving kindness.

While it’s nice to have the scientific explanations, it’s not really all that surprising, is it? In fact, one of my favorite famous quotes is by Booker T. Washington, who wisely pointed this out over 100 years ago: “If you want to lift yourself up, lift someone else up.”

Angela Loëb is an author, speaker and self-development consultant who loves to study, teach and write about mind mastery and life purpose. More at http://about.me/angelarloeb

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Comment by Angela R Loeb on February 18, 2013 at 6:49pm

Thanks, Dawn.  I had fun writing the piece... it lifted me up too. :)

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