One thing that you should know about me is that I'm a science guy. I like to know that there is good scientific evidence that proves a point before I am willing to accept it as fact. And what I like most about JoyGerm Day is that science can actually prove that kindness is contagious! Just seeing someone perform an act of kindness toward another can warm our hearts. It gives us hope that things aren't as bleak as they can often seem. In fact, that warm-fuzzy feeling has a name. It's called moral elevation. Studies have shown that this feeling, this natural high, makes us want to behave more altruistically toward others.
New research published in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry found that moral elevation can be measured in the brain and in heart rate. The study involved 104 college students who watched either videos depicting heroic acts of kindness or humorous situations. The results were kind of amazing. "When the students were viewing the heroic acts, activity in both the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system peaked -- an unusual combination that suggests both a fight-or-flight response and a calming, self-soothing response. When they were watching the amusing videos, there was no activation in either system." Dr. Sabrina Saturn, a psychologist at Oregon State University, said that it is very uncommon to see both of these systems "recruited for one emotion." One theory is that it may be because "viewing a compassionate act requires us to witness suffering, which enacts a stress response and activates the sympathetic nervous system. Then, once we see the suffering alleviated through an act of kindness, our heart feels calmed and the parasympathetic nervous system is activated." The researchers also found that the area of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex lit up in scenarios involving someone being helped after they were physically injured -- but not in the act of kindness that was performed on someone who was not injured. That suggests that this brain region likely has some role in moral elevation, but further research is needed to determine exactly what the role is and whether it's only activated when we see someone in pain. So why is the medial prefrontal cortex important? It's because that is the part of the human brain that deals with empathy and the ability to predict others thoughts and behaviors.
Is it any wonder, then, that we all love to watch "It's A Wonderful Life" every holiday season? That film was is filled with moral elevation and altruistic behavior. It is the quintessential feel-good film. My family and I watch it together every Christmas. And, secretly, I sometimes watch it even when it's not the holidays...just when I need a little cheering up.
National JoyGerm Day was founded in 1981 by the joyful and exuberant Joan White. There's even a JoyGerm Club with over 180,000 card-carrying members around the globe. The best way to celebrate is to see how often you can spread the JoyGerm today. Post your JoyGerm experiences on social media using #NationalJoygermDay.
Laugh, smile, be kind, inspire and spread the one type of germ that is good for everyone to catch! And oh, by the way, there is no known cure for the JoyGerm. Thank goodness for that!
Tomorrow, my wise friend and teacher, The Dharma Frog will be back after his holiday break. I hope you'll join me back here tomorrow. I'm sure he'll be starting off 2019 with an amazing lesson for all of us. Until then, I wish you
PEACE (and Joy!)