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‘Had some luck, paying it forward’: I was struggling, then an envelope arrived

Joann didn’t hesitate posting her story on The Kindness Pandemic, a Facebook page dedicated to sharing such uplifting acts. “We’re all feeling pretty miserable now with coronavirus, so anything that’s going to put a smile on our faces is worth sharing,” she reasoned.

No doubt countless smiles have been put on faces since the launch of The Kindness Pandemic on March 14. The movement is the brainchild of Melbourne-based Dr Catherine Barrett, director of Celebrate Ageing, a social enterprise building respect for older people. Barrett launched the page as a way to reduce both her own anxiety over coronavirus and some of the ways people were behaving as a result, such as the aggression directed towards supermarket workers.

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She also wanted to divert people’s attention away from the distressing medical pandemic and shift it towards a psychological one of kindness.

It has certainly grabbed people’s attention. Since its inception, The Kindness Pandemic membership has swelled to more than half a million. And, like a true pandemic, those figures continue to rise. The page has now expanded to include local branches where members help their own communities.

So, Barrett explains, someone might post, “Mrs Brown needs X, Y and Z,” and someone else will say, “I’ll get those for her.”

Psychologist Kirstin Bouse understands why a pandemic of kindness is so appealing. She says we all have a “hard-wired need” to belong to a social network, which means we tend to place the desires of the group above our own. We also have an essential desire for connection – now, more than ever.

“When our wellbeing is at stake, the need to connect and not ‘do life’ alone is even greater,” she says.

Plus, Bouse adds, being benevolent feels good. Not only does it lift our spirits, it helps put our own struggles in perspective. And when we’re on a roller coaster of emotions such as worry, despair and stress due to the awfulness of the global situation, she says we seek ways to counter that through positive action, which also offers a much-needed sense of control at a time when we have so little of it.

Being altruistic, and reading about acts of kindness, is also beneficial for your mental health, says Barrett. She’s received feedback from members who’ve been referred to her page by their psychologists, along with those who reported their own mental wellbeing “was going down the toilet” until they discovered the page. Scrolling through heart-warming stories leaves people feeling “inspired, hopeful and soothed”, Barrett says.

Bouse also suggests seeking other ways to spread niceness, such as via new programs to “adopt” a healthcare worker or struggling musician.

Joann Smolders looks forward to the day she can “pay it forward” with her own act of kindness. Meanwhile, she wishes she could tell her anonymous donor how much their gift lifted her spirits at a time she needed it. “I was struggling with life and it totally restored my faith in humanity.”

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale May 24.

Looking for some good news?

We could all do with some good news right about now. That’s why we have launched The Good News Group, a Facebook group where we’ll share uplifting, inspiring and positive stories and invite members to do the same. Join the group here.

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