T

he pandemic has been a reminder of how dependent we are on one another. We've relied on the courage and commitment of grocery store workers, health care staff, police, pharmaceutical companies, etc. But how have we given back?

We have the opportunity to serve others daily with small acts of kindness that can lift individual spirits — acts that may in turn serve to enrich our whole community. This sounds easy, but the chronic stress and the weariness we have endured have stretched our compassion and generosity. Helping one another can be as simple as being a courteous driver or as complex as donating time or money to an agency charged with helping those who are homeless or hungry.

Giving to others, in fact, is a path to better physical and mental health for us, too. Doing acts of kindness for friends or strangers is a strong predictor of heart health and longevity. And it just feels good. For many years, we knew that a pleasure center in the brain lights up when we are eating a delicious meal or drinking our favorite alcoholic beverage. Brain scans have also revealed a second pleasure center that is activated when we give to others. Yes, giving is not always acknowledged by the receiver, and sometimes people take advantage of our kindness. This makes acts of service to others even more heroic. As John Wooden, UCLA's renowned basketball coach reminded his players, "No day is complete unless you have done a favor for someone who will never be able to repay you." Just think of the possibilities if we all were to go just a bit out of our way to quietly make someone else's day a little brighter.

Robert Maurer is the author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life and Mastering Fear. He is also a practicing psychologist in Spokane. After this issue, he's stepping back from writing this column. We at Health & Home offer our thanks for the heartfelt and thoughtful advice he's shared in our pages since 2016.

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