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The 2 Words That May Help You Live a Longer Life

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A box with a flower bouquet on a front porch in front of the door
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We all know the rush of unexpected joy that acts of kindness can bring on, particularly as we age ... but being the one who initiates kindness is also a boost to our physical and mental health.

A report titled "The Art of Kindness" from the Mayo Clinic cites how acts of kindness may increase self-esteem and empathy while also lowering stress levels. They can also lead to mind-body-spirit changes that may promote longevity. Another study from the American Psychiatric Association found that participating in acts of kindness "helped individuals with depression or anxiety to divert their attention from themselves and take their minds off their own symptoms."

I have discovered that extending generosity to others does evoke an overall sense of well-being, especially when it is beamed toward strangers. A few months ago, a young man appeared at my doorstep with a bouquet of flowers. He was one of several students who walked by my home office window every day after middle school.

We always smiled and waved at one another when he passed by. But his generosity stunned me when he handed over the flowers and said this: "Even on my worst days at school, you were always at the window with a big smile, and it made my day so much better."

Another stranger who empathized with my grief after losing a beloved dog showed me a much-valued random act of kindness. Artist Judy Van Dellen was deeply moved when she read my pet loss story in The Ethel and offered to paint a portrait of my dog. She asked for nothing in return but permission to help ease the burden of my grief.

The day the portrait arrived, I unwrapped the package and was overwhelmed with tearful emotion, for the beautiful painting, her generosity and compassion.

Jeannie Curtis also knows the power of generosity and compassion. She lost her Christmas tree several years ago when her cat knocked it down and broke most of her glass heirloom ornaments. "Those ornaments were handed down from several generations and held many special memories for me," says Jeannie Curtis of North Dakota. "I was devastated when they shattered, and I completely lost my holiday spirit." Curtis’ friends came to the rescue, surprising her with cartons of new ornaments — and even helped decorate her tree. "It meant the world to me, and now my new ornaments are more meaningful than the old ones."

Anne Bardsley of St. Petersburg, Florida, says that an act of kindness got her through the stressful weeks after she learned her grown son was diagnosed with autism. A large envelope arrived in the mail with no return address. Inside was an expensive gift card to a day spa and a note that read, "I know you're going through so much … I hope it will refresh your body and mind just a bit. You are loved."

Bardsley recalls “It was the emotional lift that I needed during a tough time in my life."

The same sense of gratitude filled Irene Mechley, a single, elderly woman from Kansas City after a massive tree fell in her backyard when a tornado blew through town. She couldn't afford a tree removal service, but the neighbors stepped in with chainsaws and cleared the debris.

"I don't know how I can ever repay them," says Mechley. "What they did went above and beyond kindness."

That story reminds me that demonstrating acts of kindness feels as good to those giving them as those on the receiving end. My husband and I were on the clean-up crews after Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in 1992. We gathered and discarded debris left in yards and streets, and helped tear down entire homes that were decimated. We brought in water and food and our lives were changed, as we knew we had made a difference in giving life and hope back to individuals and whole neighborhoods.

This experience hammered home this truth: Kindness matters!

Nowadays, I enjoy cooking for others who don't have time to spend in the kitchen. Whenever I make big pots of soup, casseroles or loaves of bread, I send out containers to the rest of the neighbors. It gives me tremendous satisfaction knowing I helped someone feed their family with a home-cooked meal made with love.

My husband also consistently lives by the words: Kindness matters. He's the man who offers to pay for groceries laid out by the person in front of him in line who cannot seem to find enough cash. Being raised in a family fostering kindness has rubbed off on our children. Now adults, they run errands for those who don't have transportation and are happy to assist when someone needs help moving into a new home.

Last week, Anne Born, a woman I only know from an online group, reached out when she heard about the new grandson in our family. She offered to gift him a handmade infant hat, and I was so moved by the unexpected gesture. When I unwrapped the hand-sewn hat she mailed and placed it on my grandson's head, her kindness felt like a big, warm hug across the miles.

What's the most recent act of kindness you've experienced? Let us know in the comments below.

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