click to enlarge Robert Maurer
Robert Maurer

"Be the change you want to see in the world." These powerful words by Gandhi are so clearly wise, and so very hard to achieve.

We live in divisive times, seeing very different solutions to local and national issues and often — very often — feeling intolerant of others' points of view.

Maybe the world could be a just a little better if we all practiced what John Wooden, the extraordinary UCLA basketball coach discovered: "You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you."

So start small. Welcome a driver who is trying to get into your lane, thank a clerk, smile at a stranger, thank a friend who has been supportive, listen respectfully to another's point of view. Those things take only a few seconds and they cost nothing.

But they do come with benefits for others, and for you. With our modern brain scans, we have discovered there are two pleasure centers in the brain. One, we have known about, the nucleus accumbens, lights up with physical pleasures, such as a good meal or a hug. But the scans have revealed a second pleasure center, the superior temporal sulcus. It is activated by any moment of service, large or small. Another body of research has demonstrated that being kind to others helps provide an immunity to stress, strengthening the immune system.

Acts of kindness sound simple but in the business of the day and the difficult people we sometimes encounter, compassion is easily forgotten. Mother Teresa had her struggles with service like the rest of us when she said, "God never gives you anything you cannot handle. I wish God didn't trust me so much." But in all the hustle and bustle, what more important task do we have each day than to make this world a little brighter?

Robert Maurer is a Spokane psychologist, founder of the Science of Excellence consulting firm, and the author of several books including One Small Step Can Change Your Life and Mastering Fear.

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