In this episode, Dr. Kathryn Buchanan gives insight into the scientific world of kindness. Join her and Jaclyn for a rich discussion on her findings on the role of kindness during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how we can use resources at our disposal to overcome barriers to everyday kind acts.
Applied social psychologist Dr. Kathryn Buchanan steps into the studio to discuss the scientific world of kindness.
This podcast is one of the many ways we live out our organization's mission to educate and inspire people to choose kindness. Visit our site kindness.org and sign up to become a part of our global community which spans more than 100 countries. It's free to join and when you do you'll be the first to get access to our latest research, tools, and even episodes of this podcast. Let's build a kinder world, together. Contact us at email@example.com or on social at @kindnessorg.
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Dr. Kathryn Buchanan
Intro: Kindness. Why kindness? Because it makes a difference. For connection. Kindness can change lives. It's contagious. The science says you'll be glad you did. Kindness is...The key to a healthier, happier world.
Jaclyn: Why kindness? While no one answer is the same, one thing is clear. Kindness is something we all know, but do we know why it matters?
I'm your host, Jaclyn Lindsay, co-founder, CEO of kindness.org. And you're listening to Why Kindness?
Hello. Hello, everyone. And welcome to the Why Kindness? podcast.
Jaclyn: This is your host, Jaclyn Lindsay. I am honored to welcome our esteemed guest today, Dr. Kathryn Buchanan. Kathryn is an applied social psychologist based at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom.
She's passionate about making a positive difference to individuals and society and has consistently found through her research and personal experiences, kindness is a powerful way to do that. When we think about how we want to showcase kindness and the incredible role it plays in building a better world, I can think of no one better than to welcome to this show, than Dr. Buchanan. So with that, let's say hello.
Hello. Hello. Hi, Kathryn. Thank you for joining us today.
Dr. Buchanan: Hello. Thank you for inviting me on. It's a pleasure to be here.
Jaclyn: We're so honored to talk to you about the work you're doing and how you're studying kindness and what you're learning about it. And we'll definitely get more into that, but true to the name of the show, why kindness?
What would you say? In response to why kindness?
Dr. Buchanan: Why not kindness? Kindness for me is a little spark of humanity from one person to another. Thrown, shown through an act of helpfulness, generosity, or thoughtfulness. It's kind of like a little nod of acknowledgment that says, I see you. You matter. And you know what? I do care.
Jaclyn: When did you become interested in studying kindness?
Dr. Buchanan: Um, so, it was the summer, um, of my undergraduate, my bachelor's. And it was time for me to choose to do my very first piece of research. And I was reading this general magazine, um, called Psychologies. And it featured Sonja Lyubomirsky's work about kindness and she's, she's kind of like the happiness queen. Um, she's at Riverside and California at the university there, and she has her own happiness lab. Um, and I was so inspired to think that happiness was a thing that you could study and that people could take part in a happiness experiments.
And, um, she was reporting some work she'd done on the benefits of kindness. And I really wanted to see these for myself. So, I decided that I was going to do a happiness experiment too, um, and I really liked the idea of it because as a psychology student, often we take part in a lot of experiments, um, for professors and lecturers, and sometimes these experiments can be quite, you know, hard going, a little onerous, and sometimes you get to the end of it and you feel like you've contributed to science, but what have you got for you?
And I really liked the idea of being able to give my participants a chance at a little more happiness, a little more satisfaction with their lives.
Jaclyn: Wow. Okay. So tell us what happened with this experiment or the first, I'm assuming, of many that you endeavored into with your research.
Dr. Buchanan: Yeah. So this is my very first one.
Um, and I recruited willing family and friends to take part in a happiness experiment. I told them, don't worry, you might not get happier. So, you know, please don't sue me if you don't, so, a little disclaimer there as well. Um, and I told them that rather vaguely that they would be asked to do something, um, or maybe not once a day for 10 days.
And some people were brave enough to go through to the next process and they answered a questionnaire about how satisfied they were with their lives. And then they were randomly allocated to one of three conditions. So the no treatment control condition, in which they did nothing, the kindness condition, in which they did an act of kindness every day for seven days.
Very small things, you know, letting someone in front of you while you're doing your supermarket shopping, opening a door for someone, um, reuniting someone with their lost things, giving a genuine compliments, you know, nothing, nothing sort of massive, like donating, um, a kidney. So, so low, low kind of level kindness, but still kindness nonetheless, and still important.
And then in another condition, um, I had them do new things. So, acts of novelty, things they'd never done before. And again, these were sort of things that could be easily incorporated into their everyday. Um, so things like learning a few phrases of Japanese or trying something new off the menu they'd never tried or going to a new park that they'd not been to before.
And so they did this for 10 days and then at the end, I asked them again, how satisfied are you with your life? And then, I compared three groups, to see, and how, how this kind of little mini-experiment had affected them. And those in the kindness condition and those in the novelty condition, they both had significant improvements to how satisfied they were with their lives.
Jaclyn: Wow. And so you took it from there, and then you decided to pursue a PhD. Tell us a little bit about the journey there. What specifically did you study? What are the questions you're interested in answering?
Dr. Buchanan: So, I still kind of maintain this interest in kindness, but I started to think about other motivations we have, um, as well.
So there's, there's something called the Big Two, um, as a framework. And one of these two is communion, and this is kind of kind acts, but also connecting with others. So it's a little broader than just kindness itself. And then there's agency, which is kind of more of an ambitious, goal-oriented, achievement-focused mindset.
And so I was interested to see how these two different kind of behaviors would affect various different dimensions of well-being. So we talk about subjective well-being, which is kind of our mood and how we feel, um, but also more kind of eudaimonic measures of well-being. So how satisfied we are with our lives.
Um, So that, that was kind of one question. My PhD thesis ended up being called, Which Way to Happiness, getting ahead, which is kind of agency or getting along with just communion. And the simple answer is both, both are effective, um, but communion is slightly more effective for eudaimonic wellbeing, say kind of satisfaction with life and agency or getting ahead is more effective for kind of more, more kind of mood-based things. So feeling positive emotions and a lack of negative emotions.
Jaclyn: Okay. When you reflect on how kindness shaped you, you as Kathryn, not as a researcher, but just as a human, what are some of your earliest memories?
Maybe your first memory that you have of, of kindness.
Dr. Buchanan: So, um, as a small child, I was very imaginative and I like to role play as being different things. Um, so on one occasion, I was a tortoise and there was one of these lovely stools, um, that you could kind of sit on the bottom of the ledge where people would, um, would usually put their feet.
I was pretending to be this tortoise and of course I got stuck. Um, so my mom took me around to the neighbor's house. She was very kind and she rescued me and this went on for some time. And at the time, I was being, um, Santa Claus, and I had this very cute little Tommy Tippy house. Um, that was very miniature and it had this lovely chimney that was kind of rectangles and I managed to wedge my entire foot in there.
So. Again, I was carried next door to the neighbor and she, she cut my tights off of me, poured some baby oil, and freed me from, an eternity of being Santa Claus.
Jaclyn: Wow. Was the neighbor a doctor? I love that your mom just kept, kept going to the neighbor. Oh, and how old were you? That's definitely formative.
Dr. Buchanan: I'd say maybe about three or four, young enough to enjoy role-playing, but not old enough to realize the consequences of getting stuck in things.
I also got stuck in our, uh, VHS player, you know, the videotapes that we had. I was being a postman, and I posted something in it.
Jaclyn: Did you go to the neighbor for that one?
Dr. Buchanan: Yep. Good old trusty neighbor.
Jaclyn: Amazing. And tell me then, from there within childhood, what was, if any, uh, role was kindness playing in school or how you were growing up? Did you find yourself always drawn to it? Did you have words for it?
Dr. Buchanan: So kindness, I always felt this sense that I wanted to include everyone, as a child.
And I think, for me, that's what kindness was. That sense of making sure people didn't feel ostracized, weren't on the outside, welcoming them in, including people. Um, that kind of thing, as I, as I got older, I enjoyed the kind of, um, I guess spontaneity in some of the acts of kindness. And I, I particularly enjoyed this kind of random acts of kindness thing.
This movement, um, as I've got older, actually, I like the idea of more thoughtful kindness. So making sure there's that match between that kind behavior you want to do and the recipients, are they going to appreciate it? Is it going to be valued? Um, is it going to empower them rather than undermine them?
And so now I've kind of, I still like the spontaneity and kindness, but I think spontaneous but thoughtful.
Jaclyn: Exactly. Love that. It really resonates with how we think about the work we're doing at kindness.org and trying to steer away from the vernacular that kindness is random and help people have a reframing that every act makes a difference and, uh, there's nothing random when you choose kindness, you're still making the choice to do it.
So it might just be the smaller acts show up differently, but they all do take, time thought, a moment of you recognizing that somebody needs something and being willing to choose it. So very resonant with how you think about that. Is there anything that you recall as far as unkindness and your experiences that you may have witnessed or had that also shaped your understanding of it?
Dr. Buchanan: No, I think it's always been a kind of a value that my parents prioritized and my grandma as well. Um. She, she would always say how important it is to be kind. And, um, I went to a Christian school as well. Although I'm not a Christian now, uh, some of these values, including kindness, still resonate with me.
Jaclyn: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think that is like a difficult, complex idea, which is so many people around the world get their values from some form of faith and upbringing and how that evolves and adapts as we grow older. Would you be open to sharing a little bit of your journey with that, how kindness was retained for you, or a value that you stuck with, even if you didn't stick with the religion, if you will.
Dr. Buchanan: So I can kind of remember some of the good samaritan stories that we were taught. And, uh, also, um, one about, I've got quite a vivid memory of this, actually. Um, we were sitting in school assembly, and our head teacher, he had these very bouncy shoes and he used to spring along and walk as he narrated the story.
And, he was telling us about how in hell, there was an abundance of food, and in heaven, there was also an abundance of food and in both places, um, the citizens were given very long chopsticks. But in heaven, all the people were using these to feed each other with, whereas, in hell, they weren't. They were all fighting about how they could get to the food and everyone was going hungry because they hadn't been considerate.
And I think at some level that really resonates because the times in which I've been happiest through my life are those where relationships have been going well for me, collaborations have been strong, teamwork's at the forefront of, of what I've been doing.
Jaclyn: Wow. Um, what a story. Um, I, I am so fascinated by lessons like that and how they have a ripple effect in ways that we might never know or understand.
Um. And that's, that's, uh, really interesting. Are you, by chance, in touch with anyone from those school days who also heard these same lessons? Have you seen, I mean, it's not quite an experiment, I guess, officially, but like, have you seen how other people were affected by that?
Dr. Buchanan: Yeah, so I am still in touch with people from my primary school days. And, I can see that also it's important to them to value kindness and to make a difference in the world. So, one of these people that I'm thinking of is a friend I've had since I was about five. And she's now a journalist for the BBC, um, and reporting on politics.
Jaclyn: Well. I bet she sees both sides there.
Dr. Buchanan: Yes, actually, we had some very interesting discussions about the work I did around the benefits of media covering, um, kindness, within the stories.
Jaclyn: Yes. So let's get into some of your recent research. Um, so fascinating. And I want to definitely unpack and learn more about, um, your role in what you're doing. Uh, so some of the research I read, we can start with the article, uh, that was published 2021. And that was looking at, um, the doom scrolling through COVID.
So would love to hear a little bit, um, more about what led you to do that study. Tell us like the premise, what you set out to do, and what you learned through it.
Dr. Buchanan: Hmm. So, um, me and some really lovely colleagues, Gillian Sandstrom, Laura Aiken, and Shaba Lowton, we had all been planning this, big kindness study, kind of a scavenger hunt where people used an app to spot kindness happening on campus, and kind of unfolding before their eyes, to see whether seeing kindness is enough to make us happier.
I think we've seen over and over again in the research that doing kindness does have positive and societal benefits for the individual receiving kindness also very nice, but less is known about kind of simply seeing it. So this was our angle. And then, of course, COVID happened and we all got locked down.
And it would not have been at all ethical or realistic for us to, um, unleash participants on campus and account kindness. So we took our study online instead. Um, and we noticed that, actually, there was a lot of kindness happening in response to COVID. And actually, that's one of the remarkable things about disasters is that people respond with compassion, with kindness. And, I think that's always heartening to see, but I also suspect that it's a soul. It kind of serves the purpose as a kind of coping mechanism too. It's something that we can do no matter how small in the face of something absolutely massive, and it shows a kind of solidarity that's really effective for community building.
So we designed this experiment online. Um, and we either directed participants to watch or to spend two to five minutes engaging in Twitter, and they either read information about COVID, so all the stuff that was happening in COVID, the kind of the death rates, the spreads, um, so all the, the kind of the grim reality that was unfolding before everyone's eyes, or we had people read about the acts of kindness that were happening in response to COVID.
Um, so in the UK, we had lots of people putting up signs for our health service, for the NHS, saying that we supported them, putting teddies in the windows for children to see on their, um, government-mandated once a day walk. Um, and people supporting local businesses when we were in our house with ordering takeaways to be delivered to our houses, um, or teachers going and visiting people but observing social distancing to drop off learning materials.
Um, all these kind of small things that people were doing, but that were there, nonetheless. Um, and then we also had another condition cause we wanted to see whether it's not just, oh, it's kind of, uplifting because it, it makes you, your mood better. So we had an amusement condition too. Um, and let me tell you, it's very hard to find something that people agree is universally amusing.
Amusing is like this big, broad spectrum of things. Um, but we settled on, I think we settled on dad jokes in the end.
Jaclyn: Oh, that's a good one. I would have loved to see the contenders, but dad jokes is a good one.
Dr. Buchanan: Yeah. And again, it had to be a real live Twitter stream. And then there is a real live Twitter stream called at dad jokes or something similar.
Yeah, so we trialed that, and actually what we found is that the Covid information condition, you know, just two to five minutes of reading those tweets, people's mood absolutely plummeted. Um, we had hypothesized and I think expected and hoped, cause we're not robots, um, to see that reading about kindness in response to COVID would have a more positive effect than the dad jokes or the no treatment control condition, but the results just weren't especially compelling and weren't there. And the main kind of takeaway was that, you know, this COVID and this kind of omnipresence of it and inescapability of it just wasn't enough, even with the kindness and because the kindness was another reminder of the pandemic, I think it wasn't possible to separate out the two.
Jaclyn: And so in the end, the study basically, lent itself more to just show that the doom scrolling and the focus on COVID had negative, uh, implications or negative effects on the participants.
Dr. Buchanan: Yeah.
Jaclyn: Okay. Yeah. I am definitely guilty of the doom scrolling and, uh, it's almost like an outlet for me when I feel stressed or something, um, that I go to the news as a distraction. I'm not active on social media, um, and the news has become, that place where I find myself scrolling. Curious, in any adjacent way, do you have thoughts on why we're drawn to negative news?
Um, because I know you had a second study that also looked at news and we'll talk about that in a moment, but curious what you can tell us. For anyone out there listening, who also finds themselves doom scrolling. Um, what is it that we're drawn to with that?
Dr. Buchanan: I think in times of uncertainty, it sort of feels very important to know what's going on, what's happening in COVID. That's how we found out the information about what we were allowed to do from day to day. Outside of COVID, I think we're kind of hardwired to attend to threats and that's kind of an evolutionary hangover because threats are the things that are kind of, you know, going to impact our survival rates. And so they kind of light up our brain, and we go, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, must pay attention to that, must remember that, must be on top of, you know, knowing where we are with that.
Jaclyn: And do you have thoughts on, um, why the hypothesis, you know, you set out to try and show didn't come true, and he, yeah. Like, was it because there wasn't enough time spent two to five minutes, maybe if they had more time or, um, yeah. What, what were your thoughts with the results?
Dr. Buchanan: Really interesting in this is that some people just didn't believe that kindness was, was a thing that was happening in their community. Um, so they were seeing it kind of play out on social media and they were thinking, that's, that's very lovely, but that's not my reality. This isn't happening to me right here.
Um, cause it, it was a global study, not just kind of a UK centric thing. And I think we have pockets of communities where maybe this, this kind of kindness thing is easier. Whereas in other places, you know, it's, it's perhaps less prevalent. I think reading through the comments that people made, some, some were talking about how actually they weren't doing enough.
They felt like they could be doing more kindness and this kind of showing them up as being not as good as these people that were going above and beyond. And then there was, of course, um, some political views feeding into it around, we shouldn't be standing outside, clapping the NHS. We should be giving them the protective gear they need.
We should be paying them and recognizing them outside of citizens standing outside their house, clapping every Thursday at a certain time. So there was kind of, sort of, you know, viewpoints feeding into that, um, that made it more nuanced. But also, I think it was just, it was that reminder, yes, kindness was happening, but COVID was happening too.
And it was hard to separate the kindness from the kind of awful, tragic backdrop of what was happening in this pandemic.
Jaclyn: Okay, so you did that. I don't know what other research happened between that and the next paper I read, which was published this year, I found this one to be so fascinating. Um, it looked to be two different studies, part of like a larger single study where you were looking at terrorist attacks, um, and kindness that was, uh, was it kindness, media related to the terrorist attacks or kind acts in response to the terrorist attacks?
Dr. Buchanan: Kind acts in the wake of the terrorist act.
Jaclyn: Yeah, so tell us, I, I'm really fascinated by this one and the results. So just unpack a little bit again, similarly, what you and your team set out to do, how you did it, and what you discovered.
Dr. Buchanan: Yeah. So as, as I was saying earlier, I think, um, as researchers, we have a privilege to research the things that mean the most to us. One day I was driving into work and there was a lot of coverage of the Ariana Grande concert bombing. Um, and this made me feel really quite sad and emotional.
Um, and then there was some slightly different coverage that was around the acts of kindness that were happening after that, um, and the Huffington Post had put together a nice kind of video compilation that I watched called Five Acts of Kindness that happened in the wake of the Manchester bombing. And I watched that and I noticed that I felt a little better, still emotional, still moved to tears, but this feeling that, oh, thank goodness, there are good people out there and they're doing good things. Um, so this, this kind of sense of relief as well, and I wanted to know, is this just a me thing? Do other people get this too? And so I started to read and I found out about something called elevation, and elevation is this response we get when we see, um, others acts of moral beauty, and they can be things like kindness, the kindness is a really, um, potent elicitor of elevation and it involves physiological feeling and feeling kind of a warmth in the chest, that kind of warm fuzziness.
Um, but feeling moved to, and like humanity isn't so bad after all, but also feeling inspired to be a better person, to be a better human, to emulate those kind acts. So I thought this was kind of interesting, and I wondered whether seeing these, this kind of kindness that happens in response to a terrorism attack, can kind of counteract or alleviate some of those kind of horrific feelings we get about the incident.
Um, so I set up an experiment and showed people either videos of the terrorism in Manchester or the video or videos of the terrorism in Manchester, followed by the five acts of kindness that happened in response to the terrorism act and I measured their mood. Before they watched these videos, and then I measured their mood again afterwards.
And people who's, you know, pairing, pairing this terrorist attack with the footage of the kindness that happened afterwards, was very powerful in alleviating some of this kind of emotional carnage, almost, that just seeing the pain and suffering of other people had provoked.
Jaclyn: Wow. And related was then news of immoral things or, you know, things that people were doing meanness, um, cruelty.
I think it was things like kidnapping, uh, bullying. Um, so tell us about that.
Dr. Buchanan: So the second study was inspired by this idea that actually the first study just focused on terrorism. Maybe this was kind of some unique effect specific to terrorist related news and we wanted to see if it was more generalizable to other media.
And also, if the kindness could be completely unrelated to the immorality, just as bad in the world, but hey, here's some good too. And yes, the good isn't directly addressing that bad, but it's a reminder that there is good out there. And you're right, we showed people this time, not videos, because videos are very evocative. So we wanted to see whether it works just with prints, print images, like you'd see kind of on a, on a flat screen in your news app.
Um, and so the morality stories with things like pedophilia, um, bullying of adolescents, homicides, um, very dark stuff. Um, and the acts of kindness were sort of things like hairdressers helping the homeless, um, by giving them haircuts before they have interviews for jobs.
Um, uh, a vet who rescued, um, pets, um, homeless people's pets and made them sort of fix them up and got them all back to good health again.
Jaclyn: Wow. And what'd you discover?
Dr. Buchanan: Say, we found the same thing again. Say, Following news stories of immorality with news stories of kindness have some very real personal and social benefits.
So the people in the, or morality and kindness condition, um, had fewer, um, negative emotions. and greater positive emotions. Um, but they were also more likely to believe that the world was a better place. So they had a positive outlook about how kind people is and how kind the world in general is.
Jaclyn: When we think about this work, We try to combine, we say, science with solutions, so we do applied work.
What would be your recommendation to our listeners of what to do with research results like this? Um, is it adding, you know, kindness, uh, channels that you follow? Or how could they implement this so that perhaps they themselves can reap these benefits?
Dr. Buchanan: Say yes, there are kindness radio channels out there, there are kindness news stories.
Um, it was, I was interviewed by the Huffington Post and the journalist who interviewed me says that often she covers kindness news stories, and she could see my research play out in the comment sections because people were saying it's so, um, refreshing to see this, this is exactly what I needed to get me out of bed today.
Of course, it's contentious as a topic as well, um, and by no means was my research ever saying, "Don't tell us about the horrific atrocities that are happening in the world", but what it says is let's try and bring a little bit more balance to our lives and to remember that there is goodness out there and there is kindness. And you can even set up news alerts for stories on kindness, or if kindness isn't necessarily your thing, solution-focused, um, stories that show, you know, it's not just all problems and mess. There are people doing things to tackle some of these and we're not helpless and doomed.
Jaclyn: Yeah. Okay. So follow news channels or read the stories that are sharing more of those positive, moments and acts that are taking place.
I hear there's a great kindness podcast out there people can listen to, to be inspired about it. Um, so that's a great reminder. And, uh, I am curious now what's ahead for you. What are some of the research projects you're most excited about in these next couple of years?
Dr. Buchanan: So, I actually am leaving academia in October.
Jaclyn: Oh my goodness! Hopefully, hopefully your university knows.
Dr. Buchanan: I have told them.
Jaclyn: Um, wow, tell us more.
Dr. Buchanan: I am resigning so that I can concentrate on retraining, um, as a counselor or I think, I think you might call it a psychotherapist in the States.
Jaclyn: Okay. Wow. So what will that entail?
Dr. Buchanan: Um, so I've already started, um, I've been working part-time as a lecturer for a little while now.
Um, and I've done, uh, I think about a year of training now. Um, so it's a funny thing because although I'm a psychologist, and it seems like I should be able to just counsel people from the get go, actually it's a very different set of skills. Um, so I've been practicing my active listening, my empathy, my unconditional positive regard, learning about different, um, therapeutic models.
Jaclyn: Wow. And, um, are you comfortable sharing what led you to do this, take this leap?
Dr. Buchanan: I am. So I really love the research side of things and I've, it's been so amazing to research the things that I'm passionate about and I'd like to continue doing it. Um, in the future, but I kind of reached a point where I was juggling so many plates.
Not only was I trying to produce world-leading, internationally renowned research, I was also trying to teach students and I had lots of amazing dissertation students. Um, undergraduates and postgraduates, but there were quite a few of them. And there was also pressure to produce impact studies to show the research is making a difference in the community, um, and to get grants in.
I also have two small children, um, two and a half year old and a five year old. And at some point, it just felt like I'm spinning so many plates, and I want to step back and think about how I can help people, which I'm passionate about doing in a new way and not just feel as though I'm researching them, but feel like I'm connecting with them and I'm making a difference.
Jaclyn: Wow. Thank you. Um, I think the big world of research has a place and that's why we're committed to it. You know, science helps move conversations forward, it gives us, um, foundational blocks to keep building on for the future state of humanity. And there's such power in getting down to the individual level and doing the work on a one on one basis, and I just think it's incredible that you were able to get that pendulum swing and, um, experience both sides in your life and kudos for listening to yourself. I think a lot of internal kindness is the willingness to pay attention to those things.
Uh, we live in a world, for good, for bad, but there's a lot of constructs of what it's meant to look like, what life is supposed to look like, and we don't always pay attention to those things. So thank you for sharing that journey with us.
Dr. Buchanan: No, it's a pleasure. It's a dream of mine to continue the kindness research in some capacity, but sort of at a lower level, maybe one day a week and not balancing it against the other commitments that inevitably, you know, inevitably come with being an academic in a university.
Jaclyn: I have a five year old and my two year olds, almost three. So curious, for any parents listening, uh, or any caregivers, anyone out there that is in front of children, do you have like your one liner that you say to your kids to talk about kindness or to instill kindness in them?
Dr. Buchanan: Um, I say, a fair amount, much more than I would like to, that's not very helpful now, is it?
But no, in all seriousness, I try and practice compassion towards, um, my children. Yesterday, my son thought he would like to decorate my sofa, I have a leather sofa and he decided that he would engrave some stars into it with his fingernails and did lots of scratching. I was thinking, why? Why would you do this?
And he said, I wanted to make it pretty for you, mommy.
Jaclyn: Oh, oh my goodness.
Dr. Buchanan: I said, take a big deep breath. And I said, I can see that. Thank you.
Jaclyn: Yes, receive it.
Dr. Buchanan: And then I went and built the leather polish.
Jaclyn: Yeah. Uh, I talk about being a helper, and the other day, my five year olds, um, basically, uh, was like trying to get my little one to um, put, put clothes on.
So he's like holding him tight and he's like putting it, you know, the shirt over and my two year old screaming. And I said, I said, is this being helpful? And he said, yes! I'm trying to be a helper and get him dressed. So, then I had to reframe, you know, he's thinking mommy talks about being kind, being a helper, and this is me helping, even though he's screaming for me to stop. He felt like he was doing the right thing, so it's, uh, it's really interesting seeing kindness through the lens of kids.
Dr. Buchanan: Mine asked me the other day, why is it important to be helpful? And I said, do you like being helped? He said, yeah. I said, do you like helping? And he said, well yeah. Oh yeah, there we go.
Jaclyn: Yes. I love it.
Dr. Buchanan: But it was very hard to articulate, actually, why it is. Yeah. I think when it's so deeply ingrained, it's harder to access.
Jaclyn: Yes, that's true. Um, I think with adults and we talk about this as a team a lot, the idea we all have the capacity for kindness, but we don't always choose it or activate it or act on it.
And it's trying to help figure out those barriers and how to help people, overcome those barriers. Um, has that been anything that you've looked at before?
Dr. Buchanan: That is something I'm very curious about. My hunch is that sometimes people don't have the resources, um, in times, uh, in terms of time or efforts, but we'll say there's a certain amount of bravery.
And putting yourself out there and doing a kind act in case it's misinterpreted, um, or misunderstood. And I think that can be a barrier too. And I do have one last piece of research actually that I'm hoping to get out before I, um, quote-unquote, retire.
Jaclyn: Tell us, what is it?
Dr. Buchanan: Um, so I've actually been looking at the darker side of seeing other's kindness.
So when we talked about, um, seeing kindness in response to COVID, um, and why it didn't work, I kind of thought, well, before we go out there and we do this scavenger hunt, asking people to see all of the kind of things that are happening, we want to be. You know, we want to check that we're not inadvertently causing people to feel worse rather than better.
Um, so I designed this kind of study where I collected people's lived experiences of times that they had seen an act of kindness that had made them feel negatively. So there was one story where someone describes their best friend complimenting another girl on how this girl kind of lit up and they felt a bit jealous and they wish that they'd been the one to give the compliment, but noticed that they lacked the kind of social skills and confidence to be able to do it.
So I think sometimes it's kind of empowering people, um, to overcome some of these barriers. But, uh, the interesting thing is when I looked for the darker reactions to seeing others' kindness, actually, I found positive ones. Some of the, some of the darker reactions, like we were concerned about the person, um, who was putting themselves in danger to help someone else, shows that they're, they're caring for the people that is doing the kindness and saying, who is looking after them.
Jaclyn: Right. Wow. Um, well, we hopefully get to see that. You think, um, are you submitting it for publication?
Dr. Buchanan: Yes. That was the aim before, um, October.
Jaclyn: Before October. Okay. Okay. So, no wrong answers, this is just me asking quick questions and you saying whatever comes to you. Um, if you could get everyone around the world to do one kind act, what would the act be?
Dr. Buchanan: Oh, I'm really horrible at this quick stuff because I want to spend so long thinking about it because it's got to be the best, best kind act in the whole entire. Well, actually, I would say to be, this is giving me inspiration to be kind to themselves actually, because until we're kind to ourselves, it can be harder to be kind to others.
Jaclyn: Yeah. Like putting your oxygen mask on first. Okay, great. Define kindness in one word.
Dr. Buchanan: Hugs.
Jaclyn: Hugs. What's the most important thing you've learned about kindness that you want the world to know?
Dr. Buchanan: That seeing it and doing it have very real, individual, and social benefits. It's good for you, it's good for others.
Jaclyn: What book are you reading right now?
Dr. Buchanan: Um, I'm reading, I'm listening to a book called Sometimes Therapy is Awkward for my book club.
Jaclyn: I love this book club. Is it a book club of therapists?
Dr. Buchanan: It is. I have founded it.
Jaclyn: Oh, amazing, amazing. Teeing up for October, I'm assuming. Amazing.
Okay, well, now we'll end with an act of kindness, and this is really a chance to showcase it and bring it to life. So we're working with Verizon. They're our wonderful sponsor of the podcast for this first season as part of a call for kindness campaign. And so within that, we invite our guests to think about someone that they would want to acknowledge or say thank you to, um, or affirm them, give them a word of encouragement.
And then, either in this moment, you can even send the text or you can tell us who's coming to mind that you want to do this act for. Um, and if you want to go call them after or do it, uh, we would just really love to hear about that. So anyone coming to mind?
Dr. Buchanan: Yes. Um, I have a friend that I've had since I started university called Chelsea.
Dr. Buchanan: And she has been there with me through thick and thin. And she's the first person I text if something goes right, if something goes wrong. And we live far away from each other, but we're in regular contact and she's my absolute rock of a friend and I love her dearly.
Jaclyn: Wow, I wish we all could have a friend like that.
She sounds amazing. Um, are you, are you more of a texter with her? Would you want to try to spontaneously call her now?
Dr. Buchanan: I could call her, but it would not be very thoughtful because she will be putting her children to bed.
Jaclyn: That's true. Ah, yes. You're in the UK. So it is 7 p.m. for you. Okay. So we are excited to hear how the text goes and reaching out and letting her know what she means to you.
Um, so Chelsea sending you so much love, and thank you for your kindness.
Thank you so much for joining us on this week's episode of the Why Kindness podcast, sponsored by our friends at Verizon. To learn more about everything you heard today from our wonderful guests, definitely check out our show notes.
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