Has anyone, a stranger perhaps, ever done something nice for you? Something you didn’t ask for or expect? Something that lifted your faith in humanity?
Or maybe you've done something nice for someone without reason. Just because. And it gave you a bit of a kick, didn't it?
This is what people mean when they talk about "random acts of kindness". It's just a lovely thing isn't it? And we'd all like a bit more of that!
As it happens, February is a special month for random acts of kindness. Valentine's Day on the 14th gives us an opportunity to show our feelings to the people we love. Now Random Acts of Kindness Day follows three days later, on February 17th, offering us the chance to show care and concern to others. And the week in which it falls is also being called Random Acts of Kindness Week.
At a time when many of us are preoccupied with our own concerns, this is a day to show how much goodness there still is in our culture, our country and our community.
The idea was born in New Zealand (where it's celebrated in November) a few years back, and is now supported and promoted by an organization appropriately called the Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Foundation.
The thinking behind it -- and this has been confirmed by research -- is that when someone is on the receiving end of a thoughtful or generous action, it makes them want to do the same for others. It's contagious. A sort of ripple effect.
What Are Random Acts of Kindness?
They're things we do to help others without there being any special need or request to do so. Simple examples would be holding the door open for someone, allowing someone in front of you in a checkout line, donating something, mowing a neighbor's lawn or leaving some freshly-baked cookies on a co-worker's desk.
There are also much more spectacular random acts, such as when a philanthropist decides to pay off student loan debts for an entire community or a diner picks up the tab for a table of restaurant guests they don’t even know.
"We are rooted in the belief that all people can connected through kindness and that kindness can be taught," says RAK president Gary Dixon.
Teaching is one reason why the organization has focused many of its efforts on school children.
With financial support from philanthropist Philip Anschutz, RAK developed a K-8 Kindness-in-the-Classroom curriculum to help young students understand the value of kindness. More than 30,000 kids here in California and across several other states, are taking part.
The aim is to give students the social and emotional skills needed to live more successful lives. One benefit is intended to be a reduction in school bullying incidents.
“With younger kids, we start with the question ‘Who am I as a person? What character traits can I attribute to myself?’” says Brooke Jones, vice president of RAK. “We build on that.”
Students are taught to question how they treat each other and how they engage with their local community.
RAK also produces a workplace calendar, aimed at changing cultures at work for the better.
Most of these resources are free.
10 Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness Day
It probably would not be too hard for most of us to think of something special we could do to surprise someone, especially among friends and family.
But RAK also has a whole page full of ideas to get you started. And they don't all have to cost you money. For example:
- Showing courtesy to other drivers and even complimenting a driver on how well they parked.
- Joining an online forum to share your knowledge and experience for the benefit of others.
- Showing interest and making an effort to learn something more about a co-worker. This helps them feel valued.
- Planting a tree to help the environment.
- Sending an encouraging email or texting someone good morning or good night.
- Saving your change in a piggy-bank -- not for yourself but for a worthwhile cause.
- Thanking someone every week. Make a list, Write thank-you notes.
- Leaving some extra quarters next to the machines in the laundromat.
- Wheeling out your neighbor's trash bin.
- Helping out in the kitchen without being asked.
For more, visit the RAK ideas page at https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas
Kindness can also be applied not just to others but also to the environment -- and goodness knows, Nature needs it. For example, you might recycle more, reduce wastage, hang clothes to dry instead of using machines to do it. You can even offset your carbon footprint when you fly by taking shorter showers, carpooling or cutting down on energy usage in the home.
Don't forget, either, to find ways of being kind to yourself. That doesn't mean buying stuff or avoiding responsibilities, but you could be kind to yourself by looking after your health, making time for hobbies and acknowledging your successes rather than beating yourself up for failures!
It's a well-known fact that making time for ourselves has great benefits not just for us but also for others.
Get Involved in the Random Acts of Kindness Campaign
As well as looking for ways to surprise others with your kindness, you can directly support the RAK campaign. For example, you can download a free calendar with ideas for every day. There are separate calendars for home, school and the workplace.
There's also a downloadable poster for youngsters and beyond, loaded with 50 ways to be kind, and even a downloadable Random Act of Kindness Award certificate. Plus, there are several events in some locations.
Find more info on the RAK website at https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/
The amazing thing is that a single act of kindness can have a far-reaching effect.
"It’s kind of like weight training, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help,” says researcher Dr Ritchie Davidson of the University of Wisconsin.
Finally, remember that random acts of kindness are not just actions that we should take during this special day or week. They're for all year round.