The Power of Human Gesture

Last week I received a handwritten note from a colleague to thank me for a card I sent her! Her note was very unexpected and was filled with details large and small that reinforced once again the impact of the human touch in a hyper-digital world. 

All too often business conversations focus on efficiencies through automation, artificial intelligence, chatbots, and the like. These technologies are important in connecting us with coworkers, stakeholders, and our communities. However, when overused, these same technologies distract us from real human connection, which actually lowers engagement and diminishes our “experience” with the people who matter most. 

You might be wondering why a simple gesture such as a card can create so much impact. Did you know that kind human gestures actually improve your health? It’s a scientific fact. 

Serotonin is a natural substance and neurotransmitter in your body. You can think of serotonin’s effects as the body’s natural “feel-good” chemical. It helps regulate mood and sense of well-being. When someone engages in a kind gesture, big or small, the serotonin levels in the body increase. What is most interesting is the serotonin level increases in the giver, the receiver AND anyone who witnesses the gesture, giving all a well-being boost. And if that is not enough, the positive effects of a kind gesture are contagious. When someone’s mood improves, it makes them significantly more likely to “pay it forward.”

Human gestures of kindness are also known to reduce blood pressure. Based on medical research, acts of kindness create emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release a natural substance, nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels, which reduces blood pressure and improves overall heart-health. 

Those who make kind gestures part of their everyday lives find it deepens the spirit, increases engagement, and produces personal and professional rewards that cannot be explained in words. It is an experience more powerful than words. 

In the busyness of life, our fixation on efficiency keeps us from carrying out human gestures (small and large). But if you’d like to experience that magical moment when serotonin helps dissipate the angst weighing on us these days, here are a few for you to consider:

  • Smile as you walk past people. You never know—your smile could be what they needed that day.
  • Pay for groceries (all or part) of the person behind you.
  • When restaurants reopen or you pick up curbside, tip your server more than your usual practice. 
  •  If you have a new neighbor (either at home or at work), welcome them to the community with a small gift.
  • Graciously let someone in front of you when you’re stuck in traffic.
  • Celebrate and welcome a new life. 
  • Send encouragement and hope to those working through loss or illness.
  • Pick up the phone and call someone you care about. Really listen and respond to what’s on their mind.
  • Send a card with a meaningful note.

If you make a certain number of small, kind gestures a daily goal, I’ll bet you’ll succeed. These actions make you a human being who cares about other human beings, and that makes us feel good at a time when we all need a lift. 

Please share the human gestures that have made the biggest impression on you.