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Why Does Kindness go Viral?


News headlines always seem to be full of celebrity dirty washing or natural disasters of one kind or another from around the world, we have reality shows focussing on the negative aspects of life such as Benefits Street or Undateables and it seems people can't get enough of it. According to Psychology Today our obsession with bad news and disaster is down to our brains being hard-wired for bad news because our caveman ancestors had to look out for the negative things around them just to stay alive.

But perhaps these things are changing because you only have to look at how random acts of kindness go viral and are shared around the world on a multitude of social media platforms. Evidence of this goes back a fair way, such as the photo of a police officer providing a pair of boots to a homeless man in Times Square going viral in 2012.

More recently, disabled Alan Barnes, who was assaulted outside his own home, was helped by a crowd fund set up by total stranger Katie Cutler, who managed to raise £281,000.00 for Alan so that he could move to a new home.

What is it that makes acts of kindness so compelling that we happily abandon our taste for tragedy in order to spread good news?

Wharton Professor of Marketing Jonah Berger conducted a study which shows our desire to share good news is down to the level of our emotional response when we view something good. If something inspires an extreme emotional response it makes us more likely to want to reach out and share it with others to pass on the good feelings, helping us to bond.

As Aristotle famously said, humans are social animals. We feel the need to be part of a group or community, to belong. That's what social media is all about, we love them because instead of experiencing things on our own we share them via tweets and posts almost as they happen. We share our joy, our anger, our opinions on events/TV shows/news in real time. It's these human connections that boost our sense of community on both a close knit and global scale.

More research that enforces this is a study of 24,000 consumers in 16 countries found that people most connected on social media were most likely to lend a hand to a friend, offer up their seat on a bus, or volunteer for a worthy cause. The study shows the basic human emotion of empathy is the one which drives us to share messages that focus on other empathic behaviours and sharing online is quick and easy to do, so people are able to reach out to each other on the run when they come across these kind acts that grab their attention. They also restore our faith in humanity and increase our feelings of wellbeing.

Kindness ultimately makes us happy, it brings people together and heals pain. It's one of the things that defines us as human beings. Social media, of course, enables us to share kindnesses and will continue to be the way we choose to share them. Allowing us to continue being a member of those all important social groups across the world. And that, in my humble opinion, is a very good thing indeed.

If you'd like to find out more about kindness, take a look at these links:

Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

Action for Happiness

Kid President

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