David Hamilton on Kindness in the Pandemic Age
May 29, 2020 08:30AM
By Sandra Yeyati
David Hamilton has authored 10 books, including The Little Book of Kindness, How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body and The Five Side Effects of Kindness. He holds a doctorate in organic chemistry and spent four years in the pharmaceutical industry developing drugs for treating cardiovascular disease and cancer. During clinical research trials, he noticed that a significant number of people experienced health improvements while on fake, or placebo, drugs. This inspired a career change more than 20 years ago, when he became a writer and public speaker teaching people how to understand and harness the mind-body connection to improve health.
Have you noticed an increase in kindness during the current pandemic emergency?
I think so. In the past, you said things like, “Hello, how are you?” as a greeting. But now, when people say it, they really mean it. There’s a sense of genuine compassion that I think is coming out in everyone on a scale that I’ve never seen before. We’re feeling empathy for people that are suffering, but also feeling empathy for each other, because we realize that everyone is in a similar place.
How do you explain this upsurge in kindness during social distancing and isolation?
We are genetically wired for kindness. The genes that produce the kindness hormone are some of the oldest in the human genome, like 500 million years old. So, our natural state is to care, to be kind and compassionate. But in life, we get caught up in everyday stresses and worries—financially, work-wise and in relationships—that often obscure that natural tendency to care. When a lot of that stuff is taken away, people’s natural sense of kindness and compassion come to the surface.
Do you see an opportunity for a shift in collective consciousness?
Absolutely. We’ve been called to unify, to recognize that we are part of the same human family. There’s a global outpouring of compassion. We’re transforming, becoming more aware of our own kindness and the needs of other people.
On another level, I saw a meme that said, “It feels like the universe has sent us home to our rooms to think about what we’ve done.” There’s research that correlates an increase in viruses and parasites over the last couple of years to a loss in biodiversity due to human action, like knocking down rain forests and human-induced climate change. Species extinctions are 1,000 to 10,000 times greater today than they’ve ever been in recorded history, except for 65 million years ago when an asteroid crashed into the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs. Parasites, viruses and bacteria have nowhere else to go, so they’re jumping species, from bats to humans, for example. We’re being called spiritually not only to be more compassionate and kind to each other, but also to recognize the damage we’re doing to the planet and to be more respectful of nature, the environment and animals.
What are the positive physical effects of kindness?
Physiologically speaking, kindness is the opposite of stress. Where feeling stressed can increase blood pressure, tense the nervous system and suppress the immune system, feelings induced by kindness reduce blood pressure, calm the nervous system and elevate the immune system.
Are certain acts of kindness better than others?
It doesn’t matter what you do. What matters most is that you do it because you mean it; you genuinely have a sense of empathy and want to help someone. All of the physiological benefits of kindness come because the feelings induced by kindness generate what I call kindness hormones, the most important one being oxytocin, which is a female reproductive hormone that also plays a big role in cardiovascular health.
Can a small act of kindness really make a difference in the world?
Absolutely. It’s been charted scientifically that if you do something kind for somebody, that person will be kind or kinder to five other people over the next day or two because of how you made them feel. Those five people will be kind or kinder to five further people, which turns into 25 people, and each of those 25 will be kind to five people, which takes it to 125 people’s lives that can be changed and affected in small and large ways three social steps away from you simply because of one tiny little thing you did.
Sandra Yeyati is a freelance writer in Naples, Florida. Connect at [email protected]