The phrase “moral elevation” captured my interest. What does it mean? I know what each word means individually, but I didn’t know this term meant the viewing of acts of kindness sets off a positive physical reaction in the viewer.
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt defines it as, “a warm, uplifting feeling that people experience when they see unexpected acts of human goodness, kindness, courage, or compassion. It makes a person want to help others and to become a better person himself or herself.”
Moral elevation triggers activation of the cranial and autonomic nerve as well as endocrine reactivity. Psychological effects of moral elevation include promoting pro-social behavior and positive social cognition and enhancing positive impact to oneself.
Our bodies and brains experience a shift when we witness an act of kindness. We are elevated to do something kind to someone else just by witnessing kind acts.
“Powerful moments of elevation, whether experienced ﬁrst or second hand, sometimes seem to push a mental “reset” button, wiping out feelings of cynicism and replacing them with feelings of hope, love, optimism, and a sense of moral inspiration.”— Jonathan Haidt
During the year 2021, my husband and I would settle into our cozy family room and watch the news night after night. I saw images of drive-by shootings, racial conflict rising to the surface, our police force put on edge by people and people put on edge by police.
There were countless reports of people dying due to the pandemic. This is the opposite of viewing moral elevation. When viewing this, what kind of impact is happening in our brain and bodies?
Perhaps its impact is reflected in the negative news happening all around us day by day. I respect and am grateful for the nightly news, although I limit it at times for my own mental health. It’s good to know if there’s been a carjacking in my neighborhood or small suburb, so I’m more aware when I venture out.
The knowledge of the rise in Covid-19 numbers helps me limit my contact with others. I’m grateful to be made aware and prepared when dangerous weather is coming my way.
Yet, even if this is all that I take in, it feeds my negative fearful attitude toward everything. I start to think that there’s nothing I can do to make the world a better place. That makes me grumpy and irritable. I feel helpless.
Learning about moral elevation has changed that thinking. Have you ever witnessed or been a recipient of a pure act of kindness? Think back and I’m sure you’ll remember a time someone was out of their way kind toward you. Just by sharing your story, you will elevate someone’s feeling of hope and love, promoting optimism in the world. You can be that kind of change!
Take a few minutes to view this YouTube video. Be in touch with how you feel during and after viewing it. I’ve found that I don’t have to see kindness firsthand but can view a video put together by someone and get the same results. It fills me with feelings of love and hope. And, most importantly, it makes me think of ways that I can elevate someone else by specific acts of kindness.
Do you feel there’s nothing you can do to affect our world? This article and learning about moral elevation challenges that thought. Where can you be the kindness you wish to see in the world? With your neighbor, with a friend, or with a stranger? We make an impact, no matter how young or old we are.
We have value to add to the world. Haidt quotes in his article that moral elevation and acts of kindness has “social beneﬁts – its power to spread… could improve entire communities. It’s contagious. “There’s a ripple effect of a cruel act and of a kind act. What if you and every person in your city set out to do an act of kindness every day? What would be the result?
Recently, the Rock, Dwayne Johnson, gave away his custom-made truck. I could be skeptical of this, thinking it was a media stunt, or I could look past my skepticism and see it for what it was. This multi-millionaire gave a veteran his truck. I laughed and cried when viewing this. I felt encouraged and uplifted. Do you feel the same?
Start small. Acts of kindness don’t have to be the ones where we are helping everyone after a tornado hits or giving away our personal vehicle. Those are fantastic and restore our faith in each other. Kindness can be bringing a cup of soup to someone, writing a simple thank you note, or giving someone a call.
I love keeping my radar out for how I can affect someone else’s day in a good way. Let’s do this. Let’s change the world. Start with elevating our own moral outlook on the world by witnessing or reading what others are doing for each other.
Have you experienced moral elevation in some way? What was it? What act of kindness have you been inspired to do? What act of kindness have you recently received? How did it make you feel?