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The other day, I went through the drive-thru at Chick-fil-A, after a late night of facilitating Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. I was a bit distracted as I was replaying the night in my head. That evening’s topic was retirement and college planning, which is my favorite lesson to teach.
While I’m usually introverted, the topic of retirement and college planning sparks something in me that brings about extroversion. I find myself talking to everyone about their investments and some of the research I’ve read over the years and feel recharged afterwards, instead of drained.
The class went long, and I had to lock up. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until I reached my car. Because my hunger snuck up on me, all I could think about was getting a quick bite ASAP. But then, something occurred that had never happened to me before.
Best Chick-fil-A Sandwich Ever
The driver in front of me paid for my meal. Even though my meal was only a couple of dollars, I have to admit that I was really touched and grateful that someone would be so considerate and kind. Who knows, maybe it came from a Rockstar Community Fund contributor!
Either way, I thought to myself, let me return the favor by blessing the person behind me. So I paid for their meal, which thankfully wasn’t a bus load of kids. I’m not sure how well that transaction would have fit into our budget. Regardless though, I was curious if the pay-it-forward chain would continue at Chick-fil-A after me. Unfortunately, I didn’t stick around to find out.
1000+ Acts of Kindness
Recently, I read that the record for a pay-it-forward is over 1,000 transactions, compiled over three days at a Connecticut Starbucks drive-thru. Can you imagine being an employee there and watching all those surprised faces knowing the driver in front of them paid for them? I’d hate to be the grump that ended that streak.
While I was really excited to receive the free meal, it was an even better feeling knowing that I could brighten someone else’s day as well.
This feeling that comes after doing something nice for someone else is known as the “helper’s high” among psychologists. Researchers theorize that the sensation is due to a release of endorphins, feel-good chemicals in your brain oftentimes associated with an exercise high.
A 2008 study conducted by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton found that giving money to others lifted the happiness levels of the study’s participants, more so than if a participant had spent the money on his or her self, confirming the “helper’s high.”
Here is the even crazier part about random acts of kindness.
Effect on Bystanders
A study done by James Fowler, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, found that if a bystander witnessed a random act of generosity, that they themselves would be more likely to do something similar. “As a result,” Fowler wrote, “each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know and has not met.”
Scientists refer to this chain of altruism as “upstream reciprocity”, but the layman’s term for this is the domino effect.
Recently I was at a BBQ restaurant when a well-dressed businessman saw three Army Rangers in line behind them. He walked up to them and thanked them for their service and then offered to pay for their meals.
As someone witnessing this act, his thoughtfulness struck me. In turn, I felt motivated to do something similar when given the chance. Wouldn’t you know, the next week I had the opportunity when two soldiers were in line behind me. At first I wanted to chicken out, but I summoned up the courage, and lo and behold, I did it.
Honestly, if it weren’t for that businessman setting an example, I may have never worked up enough courage. That type of example is what motivates others to operate in a similar fashion.
So why is it that when we witness generosity that it spurs us to do something generous on our own? According to Fowler, we as humans often mimic behavior that we see. This might explain why customers took part in the uninterrupted 1000+ pay-it-forward chain.
A survey of happiness in 136 countries, completed in 2010 at the Harvard Business School, found people, who are altruistic and financially generous, were happiest overall.
Paying for those soldiers’ meals was definitely some of the best money that I’ve spent in a long time. Maybe if more people gave it a try, they would get hooked on the “helper’s high”.
My goal is to do some sort of act of kindness each day now. This doesn’t necessarily mean monetarily, but even simply an encouraging word or a helpful hand. My hope is that my small action would make a big difference in the course of the beneficiary’s day.