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The Healing And Persistent Power Of Kindness

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In this season of Christmas, a question... When was the last time you thought about the power of KINDNESS? 

The wonderful thing about "It's a Wonderful Life" is those final few minutes, when George Bailey -- after a lifetime of dolling out kindness -- finally gets it all back in full measure.

Sure, it's a Hollywood ending -- kindness rarely parades into your living room, after all -- but it can appear in places you don't expect. 

For Traci Bild, it was the parking lot of a Dairy Queen some 30 years ago tonight. 

"My mom loves Christmas, we were very much about Christmas, but we just didn't have any money for a Christmas tree. That was just the reality," she told Cowan.

Yes, on that Christmas Eve in Urbana, Ohio, there was no tree, no presents, no money … except for the few coins she and her brother scrounged out of the couch cushions.

"It wasn't much," Bild laughed. "I mean, it was literally quarters and dimes. Probably under a dollar!"

They took their meager offering to the only tree lot in town, at that Dairy Queen, run by a round-faced man nicknamed "Jug."

Gerald "Jug" Woodruff.

Jug had been a Marine and an Ohio State Trooper, and although stern-faced in old photos, on that night Jug seemed to Bild as soft as new-fallen snow. "You know, the thought of my children, walking a couple of miles in hopes of finding on Christmas Eve a Christmas tree to take home to their mom, I can imagine that must have touched his heart," she said.

Touched, indeed; Jug not only gave them a tree, he gave them his biggest and best, no questions asked. 

"It was about the magic of Christmas, of human kindness, and somebody doing something for us that we did not expect someone to do," Bild said.

Not expecting it is what makes kindness so special. And yet, as unexpected as it is, we still crave kindness, which may very well be because research shows being kind is a natural part of the human condition. 

"We're genetically wired to be kind," said David Hamilton, a former organic chemist from Scotland. "It's actually our deepest identity.

"It's when we're not being kind that it's unhealthy. It's when we're not being kind that we feel separate and we feel disconnected and we feel unhappy and something's 'out of sorts.'"

Hamilton has made a career lecturing and writing about how kindness isn't just something we do, or something we feel. It's something our bodies actually need. 

"Being kind, because it makes you feel warm and connected, it actually changes the internal biochemistry of your body," he said. "There's a physical effect, yeah. It's the opposite of stress."

There is a hormone that is produced every time we do something kind. It's called oxytocin -- what he likes to call the "kindness hormone." 

"One of the things that it does, it softens the wall of the arteries," Hamilton said. "It's funny; it's like a mirror. As you become softer towards people, so you soften on the inside. It actually softens the walls of the arteries. And when that happens, the heart doesn't have to push as hard to get the blood through, so blood pressure drops." 

And, he says, you can get that healthy effect by doing nothing more than offering a smile. 

Cowan asked, "So, it doesn't have to be some grand gesture, right?"

"No, it's the consistency of doing small things that matter more than doing one grand gesture." 

Elizabeth Higgins Clark and her fiancée, Lauren Pomerantz, found that out when they set out to do one small act of kindness every day for an entire year. 

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