Campus life is typically associated with many attributes, but kindness is not usually one of them. We tend to imagine universities reeking of academic rigour, intensive study, looming deadlines and value-brand baked beans; the warm fragrance of kindness is rarely associated with these ivory towers of learning.
The University of Central Lancashire, home to my own ivory tower for the past 18 years, is about to change all that as we launch our first ever (and, as far as we know, the first ever for any UK university campus) Acts of Kindness Day (AOK Day). On October 6th, our Preston campus will be lit up by good deeds as we launch our new initiative to create a kinder university campus not just one day, but every day.
As a psychologist specialising in emotions, I have long been interested in the idea of Paying it Forward, and have written widely on this previously here at the Huffington Post and in my book Paying It Forward; how one cup of coffee can change the world. The idea of 'paying it forward' is that when someone does something nice for another person, that person pays it on by doing something nice for someone else. This creates a domino effect of kindness - hence one good deed can change the world.
And everyone benefits - not just the receiver of the act of kindness, but the giver too. According to a study by Stanford University psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky in 2005, students who carried out five random acts of kindness a week, reported higher levels of happiness than a control group (try it!). Our mental well-being can be enhanced even further by simply noting and counting these good deeds at the end of each week. This could be because being kind makes us value ourselves as good people and thus makes us feel more positive; by counting our acts of kindness in a week, we are reminding ourselves about how nice we are and thus we are able to enhance our own self-esteem. This is why I often ask my depressed clients to keep a journal of good deeds. Even the thought of helping others makes us happier and there are physiological reasons for this; brain scans show that just thinking about helping activates the mesolimbic pathway in the brain which produces the feel-good chemical dopamine..
Universities can seem like quite daunting places for new and returning students, who are having to cope with eking out their student loan, fitting in socially and keeping up with demanding coursework burdens. Campus life can seem cold and forbidding at times, when you are far from the comfort of home, are struggling to balance money or workloads, or just need a friendly face.
This is why we want to create a kinder campus and our new AOK day on October 6th is just the platform we need to encourage everyone, whether staff, students or local residents, to do something nice for someone else in the expectation that the good deed will be passed on. We will have Kindness Kabins dotted around campus, where people can grab a special cookie and balloon to pass on, make friendship bracelets or pledge acts of kindness onto our Kindness Walls. We will have free hugs on offer (with our resident cuddly giraffe) and people can nominate friends or colleagues to receive a special act of kindness.
The city of Preston will also be alive with our special dance and happiness workshops, knitting projects (for good causes) and pop up choirs. There will even be free neck and shoulder massages available and a whole host of other activities designed to spread that warm glow of kindness around our campus. With special AOK cards given to recipients of acts of kindness, we will be able to track just how far an act of kindness can spread, using the #UCLanAOK hashtag on twitter.
We hope that our AOK Day will make people feel better in what can seem like a tough world. By spreading cheer, goodwill and warmth, we want to create a kinder campus where staff and students will routinely help each other out, trade compliments and get used to performing random acts of kindness, not just on AOK Day, but every day of the year