Traveling through Burma (aka Myanmar) recently -- a fascinating country, known as "The Golden Land" because of the tens of thousands of pagodas gleaming with gold-leaf covered spires -- I learned about the different ways Buddhism is practiced there. Oh, the essential aspects of Burmese Buddhism are the same as in Bhutan, Thailand or India, but there are some differences, according to my guide.
One of the most intriguing differences to me, was the importance of the daily "merit." Every day, a Burmese Buddhist is to perform an act of kindness, thereby earning a "merit," which is important to their soul's evolution. This kindness takes many forms; from adding rice to a Buddhist monk's begging bowl, to helping someone carry a heavy load, to soothing a distressed child who's lost sight of their parent.
It's what we would call a "random act of kindness," but done on a non-random basis. As in, every day.
What a wonderful concept. More than a concept, what a soul-enhancing way to live life. If every day, you are on the lookout for some way to do an "act of kindness" then kindness becomes a way of being, not just something you do on an occasional basis.
Now, what's awesome about acts of kindness, is that not only does the recipient of your kindness benefit, but so do you. Research on altruism, compassion and service -- the basic components of acts of kindness -- shows that giving of yourself benefits your physical health, improves your longevity, and makes you less prone to depression.
Plus there are cardiovascular advantages: according to Dr. David R. Hamilton, acts of kindness release oxytocin, a hormone which protects the heart by lowering blood pressure, among its many other contributions to our well-being.
But perhaps the sweetest benefit of doing acts of kindness is that it makes us happier. As Sonja Lyobomirsky, Professor of Psychology, UC Riverside states: "People who engage in kind acts become happier over time ... When you are kind to others, you feel good as a person -- more moral, optimistic, and positive."
Why not, then, make acts of kindness part of your daily routine? So that you add to your personal happiness quotient, even as you are expanding the good in the world? It doesn't take much, for an act of kindness doesn't have to involve heavy lifting (although sometimes it may).
An act of kindness is as simple as letting that person with just 2 items get in front of you in the supermarket cashier lane. As smiling at a homeless person on the street, who usually is greeted with a blank look, if any look at all. As making room for a driver to make a lane change more easily, rather than your charging forward. As typing "Thank you!" in the "comments" section of an online order form, rather than leaving it blank.
Every time you commit an act of kindness, be aware of the positive impact it has on others, including those who merely witness your kindness, and enjoy the good-feeling your kindness can engender in you.
Let your kindness be more than "random," commit as many acts of kindness as you are inspired to every day, and watch your happiness grow.