International Pay It Forward Day: Acts of kindness by the millions?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Pay It Forward Day
Pay It Forward Foundation logo

CLICK on the Pay It Forward Foundation logo to visit the group’s website for updates on the launch of this year’s big day.

Global Pay It Forward Day is this Thursday. Over 500,000 people in 60 countries have signed on to participate. On Thursday, each will do 1-to-3 random acts of kindness “with no expectations other than the recipient in turn does a favor for someone else.” If each participant does an average of 2 good deeds—that’s 1 million random acts of kindness in a single day.

If each recipient of a good deed pays it forward just once, we now have 2 million random acts of kindness in a day. The organizers of “International Pay It Forward Day” are hoping for even more than that.

Do you believe it will happen?

The Pay It Forward movement is worldwide. Kindness is a universal virtue. But America is the only nation that ranks kindness as its #1 character strength, according to research by the VIA Institute that I discuss in United America. Paying it forward also taps one of America’s 10 core values: justice and fairness. Paying it forward is a form of fairness and balance in human relations.

Why do people pay it forward? Why help someone who hasn’t helped you? It’s “human nature,” you might say. But so is selfishness. Paying it forward doesn’t make sense when people are selfish, taking favors but never paying them back or forward.

Evolutionary biologists have an explanation: strategic reputation building. The reason we are willing to help those who haven’t helped us is because others are watching. Others won’t help us if they perceive us to be stingy. They will help us if we appear to be kind and generous. But we’re not really kind and generous, according to this theory. Rather, we act that way in anticipation of future benefits.

I’ve never liked that answer. Alternative explanation is one that I’ve seen time and time again when I use the Reciprocity Ring™ group activity: positive emotions. You help me and I feel the positive emotion of gratitude, which motivates me to then help someone else. We pay it forward because we are grateful for help we received.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Is there any proof? There is. My colleague Nat Bulkley and I conducted a massive study to test both the positive emotions and reputation explanations. We found that both matter, but positive emotions have a stronger and longer lasting effect than reputation. Our article was just accepted for publication in the scholarly journal Organization Science. (If you’d like to read the paper, you can get it on my personal web site.)

Do you have a Pay It Forward story to tell?

Do you believe 1 million random acts of kindness with take place this Thursday?

Will you commit to be a participant?

Compassion: A community rallies to cure ALS

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Compassion
One Step Ahead video on campaign to cure ALS

Click this image to visit the free Vimeo video page where you can watch this inspiring 28-minute film.

“We had one life that we planned,” said Gretchen Spreitzer, “and that got taken on a different trajectory after Bob got diagnosed with ALS.” Better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, about 5,600 people are diagnosed with it in the U.S. each year, according to the ALS Association.

What happens when life takes us on such a dramatically different trajectory?

Today, I’m wrapping up our series on compassion with a special video I’m asking you to watch. We started the week with a free online quiz about compassion in the workplace and discussed why compassion makes business sense, how we are hardwired for compassion, and three types of givers.

To conclude our series, let’s move from theory to a personal story—how Bob’s and Gretchen’s lives have been shaped by the generosity of family, friends, colleagues and even strangers. Bob and Gretchen are married with two children. Both are professors at the University of Michigan. Their response to the dire news of ALS is testimony to what Dr. Viktor Frankel said about freedom: No matter what, each of us is free “to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Bob and Gretchen chose a positive approach to Bob’s illness, inspiring the creation of Ann Arbor Active Against ALS, the grassroots movement that “searches for fundraising ways to shore up cure-based funding for ALS.” A2A3 hosts a range of fundraising activities, such as the annual Electric Bolt run. This year, the run is Sunday, July 28th.

The outpouring of compassion also inspired the making of “One Step Ahead,” a documentary that premiered this week on Detroit Public Television. It is available 24/7 on Vimeo, so you can watch it anytime. (Just click the image above.)

Here’s a description of the short documentary: “One Step Ahead” explores how this positive approach guides the professor, his family, his medical team, and his supporters. Fundraising efforts highlighted include six women who swim the English Channel to raise global awareness about ALS, as well as raising money for ALS research; the joint effort of A2A3 and U of Michigan’s Phi Delta Theta, and their annual Boxcar Derby; and A2A3’s Family Fun Day, where examples of an active lifestyle are encouraged and demonstrated.

Typically, I end each column with two or three questions. Today, however, I end with a request and a single question:

Would you watch “One Step Ahead” and tell us what you think?

Please leave a comment below:

Compassion: Does it make business sense?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Compassion
CISCO John T Chambers at World Economic Forum.

CISCO John T. Chambers at The World Economic Forum. Photo by Michael Wuertenberg released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Does compassion make business sense? I know that seems like a crass question. The case for compassion is a moral and human one. In business, however, many hard-nosed leaders don’t see a place for compassion unless it makes sense in dollars and cents.

So, does a lack of compassion “cost” a company? One estimate puts the cost of grief to business at $75 billion annually—and that’s a dated figure, so the cost probably is more today. Stress and burnout cost hundreds of billions of dollars in lost time, productivity, and more, according to the CompassionLab. These figures should capture the attention of business leader who focus solely on bottom-line impact.

We typically think of compassion as something that occurs between two people. The elements of compassion at the person-to-person level include noticing another person’s suffering, feeling the other person’s pain (empathy), and responding in a way that supports the person who is suffering.

Jason Kanov and colleagues argue that we can also think of organizational compassion. This involves the same three elements, but in a collective way. Collective noticing is more than just multiple people recognizing another person’s suffering. It is a collective acknowledgement of suffering.

Leaders play a critical role. Kanov and colleagues cite the example of John Chambers, CEO of CISCO Systems, who established a policy that he should be notified personally within 48 hours if a CISCO employee or employee’s family member died or became seriously ill. Today, Cisco has over 73,000 employees.

Collective feeling means sharing individual empathy more widely. This occurs best in cultures that are open and people are encouraged to share what’s going on in their lives. Organizations have “feeling rules” about what is and what isn’t appropriate to share.

Collective responding is a coordinated response to suffering. Individuals may respond with emotional support or material aid and assistance. But this response is amplified when an organization coordinates and directs a response.

Does the concept of organizational compassion make sense to you?

Do you have a good example or collective compassion?

Or, have you seen organizations fail to respond to pain and suffering?

Please leave a comment below:

Compassion: Test your workplace with this free online quiz

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Compassion
Greater Good website Science of a Meaningful Life

Click the Greater Good Web logo, here, to take the online quiz on workplace compassion.

KINDNESS is the #1 character strength in America, according to a global survey of 24 character strengths.

But, what about the workplace? Often, kindness is reserved for family, friends, and community, while the workplace is cutthroat.

Today, I’m giving you a free online quiz to see: Do you work in a cutthroat or a compassionate organization?

Compassion is a subject of scientific study. Members of the CompassionLab are leaders in the field with over 10 years of research on compassion in the workplace. They are “a group of organizational researchers who strive to create a new vision of organizations as sites for the development and expression of compassion.” The CompassionLab is part of a worldwide movement called Positive Organizational Scholarship that focuses on how people and organizations flourish.

The CompassionLab just partnered with Greater Good at Berkeley to create an online assessment of compassion in the workplace. I took the 23-question assessment, receiving a compassion score for my workplace and a written summary assessment. I also received advice on concrete ways that organizations can increase compassion, and what leaders can do to elevate compassion in the workplace.

I invite you to take the assessment. Click the logo, above. It takes only a few minutes, and it will give you insights on the current state of compassion in your organization, and good advice on how to increase compassion in the workplace.

Is your workplace cutthroat, compassionate, or somewhere in between?

What’s your organization’s “compassion score?”

Does compassion have a place in business?

Please leave a comment below:

Pursuit of Happiness: Researchers test the pace of kindness

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Pursuit of Happiness
President Barack Obama meets with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House. White House Photo by Pete Souza, released for public use.

President Barack Obama meets with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House. White House Photo by Pete Souza, released for public use.

We can pursue happiness—one of our inalienable rights—in various ways. Money can buy happiness, as we discussed yesterday. But the science of happiness shows us ways to seek happiness that don’t cost a dime.

Doing acts of kindness is a happiness activity that Sonja Lyubomirsky recommends in her book, The How of Happiness. As she notes, philosophers and religious leaders have always known that being kind to others increases our happiness. “If you want to be happy, practice compassion,” says the XIV Dalai Lama. That’s timeless wisdom.

What’s new is the scientific research that backs up this wisdom—and provides helpful insights into which kindness practices work and which don’t. Let’s say that you had to choose between two options. Option 1: Do five acts of kindness, but only one a day over the course of a week. Option 2: Do five acts of kindness, all in one day. Which option makes you happier?

Lyubomirsky and colleagues conducted this experiment. Here are the exact instructions they gave participants:

“In our daily lives, we all perform acts of kindness for others. These acts may be large or small and the person for whom the act is performed may or may not be aware of the act. Examples include feeding a stranger’s parking meter, donating blood, helping a friend with homework, visiting an elderly relative, or writing a thank-you letter. Over the next week, you are to perform five acts of kindness. The acts do not need to be for the same person, the person may or may not be aware of the act, and the act may or may not be similar to the acts listed above. Do not perform any acts that may place yourself or others in danger.”

What did the researchers find? Practicing kindness made participants happier—but only if they did all their acts of kindness in a single day. Those who spread out their acts of kindness did not feel happier. Spreading out acts of kindness may have made each one too inconspicuous in the course of daily life to make much of a difference. Doing them all in the same day, however, made a powerful combined impact.

So, today I invite you to try their experiment.

What five acts of kindness can you do today?

Please leave a comment below: