Breathing Space October 2023

by Dan Comer

The Ripple Effect

Bear with me, these two stories will make sense in a little while…

A few years after moving to my neighborhood, I kept noticing that a large pine tree had the perfect-looking space at its trunk for a little fairy garden. Soon after, I saw a little fairy door at a garden store and bought it for this space. That’s it. I didn’t mention it to anyone.

As time went on, little by little, neighbors (kids and adults!) have added to it. It is now a play area for smaller kids in the neighborhood, and I am delighted when I hear or see them playing there. (It is an adult who puts Christmas lights up for the fairy village each year.)

My first professional job was housed in this old, rundown building in a small town. I was located in the basement, but luckily it had a window that let some light in. My colleague’s workspace, however, was basically a small hallway surrounded on all sides by dark brown paneling—no windows at all. It was dreadful.

One day I saw an old window at the end of a drive that someone was giving away. A light went off for me. I took the window home, added curtains, and to the back of the glass pasted a lovely photo of an outdoor mountain scene—so you opened the curtains and were looking out at beauty! I snuck it into the office on a weekend and hung it up behind my colleague’s desk. Now she had a window!

Of course, she was delighted, but what happened next was even better. Over time, random people would secretly affix a tiny photo of themselves, or deer, or ___ into the scene.  It was hilarious! It was better than having an actual window.

Why am I sharing this? Here is the science. In 2017, a group of researchers started an experiment with employees at a Coca-Cola office in Madrid. They broke up the employees into three groups: givers, receivers, and controls. The givers were told to spend the next month doing kind things for the receivers. After a month, both the givers and receivers were happier, according to ratings that were part of the experiment.

That’s incredible. But the experiment went even further. The researchers wanted to know what the receivers would do, having benefitted from these acts of kindness. It turns out that the receivers paid it forward. They started doing kind things for other people—nearly three times more kind acts than the controls were doing! They weren’t just being kind back to the givers, either. They were spreading it more broadly within their organization.

We all know that what you do has a ripple effect, touching not just the people around you but the people around them, and then even the people around them. What might you spread in your organization?

If you’re inspired to start a ripple effect, let me know what you decide to do (pictures are great!). Send your ripple effect to