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Kindness is Contagious

by Beth on June 11th, 2011

Have you seen the movie Pay it Forward? In it a 7th grade social studies teacher challenges his students to put into action a plan that will change the world for the better. One of the students, Trevor, decides that he will do a favor for three people and will ask each of them to “pay it forward” by doing favors for three other people and so on. I saw the movie years ago and was fascinated by the idea.

In the movie people directly ask the recipients of their good deed to pay it forward by doing something good for someone else. It turns out that reality is even better than the movies because people don’t need to be asked to pay it forward. Research shows that when people benefit from a kind act they are inspired to pay it forward and want to do a good deed for someone else.

Two professors, Nicholas Christakis from Harvard and James Fowler from the University of California-San Diego, designed an experimental study where one person gives money to a person they don’t know who in turn gives money to someone else who they don’t know and so on.  The researchers found that generosity by the first person influenced the next person to give more and that this influence spread up to three degrees of separation, that is from person to person to person to person. So being kind is contagious; good deeds by one person can influence many other people to pay it forward. You can read more about social contagion in  Christakis and Fowler’s book Connected.

Performing acts of kindness is a great way to increase your happiness. Doing a good deed for someone makes you feel great. And the fact that your good deed will likely inspire a domino effect of kind acts makes it even more powerful. So what will you do today to start a chain reaction of kind acts?

From → Generosity

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