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Make kindness a habit

Last year The Great Kindness Challenge inspired 554,486 students to perform nearly 28 million acts of kindness, according to the nonprofit organization Kids for Peace.

The challenge is being repeated Jan. 26 – 30, and Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) and its parent company, Dignity Health, are once again sponsors and encouraging local schools to get involved.

Many local campuses have already signed up to participate and others may register online for the free program at greatkindnesschallenge.org.

The idea, according to SNMH President and CEO Katherine Medeiros, is to encourage local students to join children around the world in performing acts of kindness during the week, and to help make kindness a habit.

The organization's website includes a kindness checklist for students that suggests things like helping younger students, thanking volunteers, bus drivers, or crossing guards, or inviting someone new into your circle of friends.

"There are so many small ways we can demonstrate kindness," Medeiros said. "It's a wonderful and easy habit for all of us to develop."

One study written up in Psychology Today asserts that children, like everyone else, feel better about themselves when they do nice things for others. The magazine explores a study on 9- to 11-year-olds done by the University of British Columbia and UC Riverside. The study demonstrated that kids behaving kindly were better liked by their peers, gained more friendships, performed better academically and felt happier and more satisfied.

In 2013 Dignity Health hospitals adopted "Hello Humankindess" as the central premise in a campaign to underscore the importance of kindness in healing, as well as in human interactions. Medeiros noted that kindness is practiced daily in hundreds of ways at the hospital.

"Compassion is part of the reason physicians, nurses, and other employees choose to work in hospitals," she said. "By putting emphasis on it, we are recognizing its importance, as well as acknowledging the ways that kindness is incorporated in their daily professional demeanor. We're proud to be affiliated with this powerful message."

In fact, the hospital is extending the Great Kindness Challenge to its employees by making a "kindness checklist" available to them. The Dignity Health checklist includes practices like saying "good morning" to 15 people, writing a loving note to a family member, picking up trash in the neighborhood, complimenting five people and smiling at 25. Or it suggests making sack lunches for the homeless, learning how to say "thank you" in another language, and dozens of other kind acts.

In a recent study out of Stanford, the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) found that kindness in the health care environment really does encourage healing. When caregivers demonstrate simple gestures such as using empathy, listening and responding to needs and getting to know a patient, it led to faster healing of wounds, reduced pain, reduced anxiety, reduced blood pressure and shorter hospital stays.

During the special kindness challenge week, the hospital will feature small acts of kindness each day toward employees and visitors, such as offering free coffee and handing out flowers.

"Kindness is always present at the hospital," Medeiros said. "The checklist just brings it to the forefront — and makes it fun."

Medeiros noted that the challenge is not limited to schools or hospitals.

"All of us can participate, either in our individuals lives and families, or at workplaces," she said. "We especially encourage local schools to take part, but we're all part of this community, and wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all simply be kinder to each other?"

To download a checklist or learn more about the program, please visit greatkindnesschallenge.org.

All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.