The power of kindness: Happiness at little cost or time

In an effort to help contribute to the local community, my challenge in February was to perform a random act of kindness every day. My only rule was each act must be different. While it’s a good idea to practice kindness every day, this challenge gives you a chance to be intentional and unabashed with your kind deeds.

One of the perks of kindness is it directly benefits the giver as well as the recipient. Performing an act of kindness helps to increase your energy levels and promote a sense of fulfillment and well-being. Being kind to others not only makes you happier in the moment, but it also improves your health, decreases feelings of loneliness and depression, and promotes longevity.

To get the benefits of kindness, don’t feel you need to do epic acts or commit substantial time out of your day. Many of my acts of kindness this month were simple and done while I went about my day (e.g. thanking the bus driver, holding the door open for others, or making positive small talk with strangers). Keeping it simple helps to make kindness a consistent part of your routine. In fact, research has shown that small and frequent acts of kindness lead to the highest levels of well-being and happiness.

Performing regular acts of kindness doesn’t need to cost much either. In total, I spent $269 on all my kind acts this month, or just under $10 per day. Compared to more materialistic pursuits of happiness, kindness gives you more bang for your buck. I decided to splurge on a few items, however. My most expensive act of kindness was to give event tickets to someone ($90).

You certainly don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy the benefits of kindness. Half of my random acts of kindness were free, and most of the others were very low-cost. In fact, some of my favourite acts of kindness this month were also the least expensive (e.g. giving out $1 scratch-and-win tickets to strangers, or enlisting my neighbours to sign a thank-you note for our mailman). If your budget is tight, try doing all your random acts of kindness for free. It certainly is possible to do this challenge without spending a dime.

My random acts of kindness performed in February, 2013
My random acts of kindness performed in February, 2013

 

Take the Challenge

Want to try this challenge for yourself? Here are some suggestions:

  • Create the challenge – set the parameters for your challenge. You can adapt the challenge to reflect your personal interests and constraints. For example, if your budget is tight, try doing all your random acts of kindness for free.
  • Brainstorm ideas – start by brainstorming a long list of possible acts of kindness. This gives you a chance to be creative and think outside the box. To help brainstorm ideas, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation provides an extensive list of kind acts, as well as other resources and information.
  • Perform kind acts in the morning – performing a random act of kindness first thing in the morning gives you an immediate boost, which can carry you through the day. It’s a good pick-me-up to start your day.
  • Track your progress – record your acts of kindness each day in a journal or simple spreadsheet. Keeping track of your kind deeds is fun and feels good. In fact, happiness increases simply by counting your own acts of kindness. My advice is to record your acts of kindness at the end of the day, which will give you another boost of happiness to end your day.
  • Spread kindness through all your networks – perform random acts of kindness in all your networks (social, educational, occupational, religious, recreational or other groups). Spreading kindness through all your networks will help to strengthen the bonds and relationships in all areas of your life.
  • Be kind to strangers – the true testament to the power of human kindness is to do something nice for a complete stranger. Make sure that some of your kind acts are aimed at people you don’t know and may never see again.
  • Stick with it – after the month is up, make random acts of kindness a regular part of your daily routine. Remember, small and frequent acts of kindness lead to the highest levels of happiness.

Five lessons from performing random acts of kindness

To help strengthen the social fabric of my community, my challenge this month is to do a random act of kindness every day. Here are five observations from the first 20 days of the month.

Kindness is like a Boomerang

When people benefit from kindness, they will often do something nice in return. All month-long, I’ve received numerous messages and thank you’s in response to my acts of kindness. While all of them were appreciated, perhaps the most impactful was from my postman. For this particular act of kindness, I asked my fellow apartment dwellers to sign a card to thank our postman for all his hard work. I left him the card, along with a Starbucks gift certificate, on a dreary Monday morning. The next day, we received the following note in our common area:

A heartfelt thanks to all of you that signed the card for the postie. I appreciate you taking the time to personally sign it. This was totally unexpected and a very pleasant surprise. Sincerely, your postie.

It was a simple, unexpected gesture and it made my day. Hopefully, his kind words provided a pick-me-up for my neighbours too. It’s an example of how one small kind act can create a boomerang effect that impacts others beyond the original recipient.

Don’t Expect Anything in Return

Getting acknowledged for an act of kindness feels good and promotes a sense of fulfillment. However, if you expect to get praised every time you do something nice, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. One lesson I’ve learned this month is to not expect anything in return from performing an act of kindness. Many times my kind deeds were completely anonymous (e.g. putting coins in a stranger’s expired parking meter) or simply unacknowledged (e.g. smiling at ten strangers). By keeping expectations low, you can avoid feeling disappointed if your kind intentions go unnoticed. As a bonus, the acknowledgements you do receive seem to pack a bigger punch.

Be Prepared for Rejection

Sometimes, people can misinterpret or flat-out reject a kind gesture. For one of my random acts of kindness this month, I left some used books in my apartment building’s lobby with a note for my neighbours to help themselves. At least one person took up my offer. The next day, one of the books was gone. However, there was also a note from someone asking for the “clutter” to be removed. Feeling rejected by this rebuke, I ended up donating the remaining books to charity. Apparently, one person’s good intentions can be another’s source of contempt. Don’t take it personally.

More Happiness at Little Cost

Performing regular acts of kindness makes you happier by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain. Known as “helper’s high,” this feeling of exhilaration increases your energy levels and boosts your sense of well-being. Unlike more materialistic mood enhancers, like buying a new outfit or going on vacation, kindness doesn’t have to break the bank. So far this month, I’ve spent a total of $162 on my kind acts, or about $8 per day. A small price to pay for increased happiness. [Note: Half of my random acts of kindness were free. It’s certainly possible to do this challenge without spending a dime.]

In Tune with Other Acts of Kindness

Performing regular acts of kindness has the wonderful effect of opening your eyes to the kindness of others. One day this month, my random act of kindness was to smile at ten strangers. It was a grey, rainy day and I had to give myself a little pep talk to go out and greet the world with a smile. As I was leaving my apartment building, the first person I ran into on the sidewalk flashed a big, warm smile at me. Their kind gesture gave me an immediate jolt of energy, which carried me through the day. I don’t think I would have appreciated that uplifting smile as much if I wasn’t in tune with my own acts of kindness all month. To that stranger, I thank you.

Random Acts of Kindness Week

Imagine a medicine so powerful that it not only heals the patient, but also the caregiver. Imagine its benefits spread like a virus, from person to person to person. Imagine its positive effects can be passed in just a moment of contact. Now, imagine this medicine is available to everyone for free and in unlimited supply.

A miracle drug? No, it is the power of human kindness.

Kindness is not only good for the recipient, but also the giver. Acts of kindness make both parties happier and help to build a sense of connectedness between people. Performing regular acts of kindness can help to increase your energy levels, promote a sense of fulfillment and well-being, decrease feelings of loneliness and depression, as well as provide a range of other health benefits.

Kindness is also contagious. When people benefit from kindness, they often pay it forward by doing kind acts for others. In fact, third parties who merely witness an act of kindness are often inspired to be kind to others. The effect can ripple through a community to help strengthen its social fabric, health and level of connectedness.

To celebrate the power of kindness, this coming week is Random Acts of Kindness Week (February 11-17). While it’s a good idea to practice kindness every day, this week gives you a chance to be intentional and unabashed with your kind deeds. According to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, RAK Week encourages people to go above and beyond to make others feel special. You can choose your own acts of kindness to perform each day, or use these ideas from the RAK Foundation:

  • Monday, Feb 11—Smile at 10 strangers.
  • Tuesday, Feb 12—Buy something for the person in the line behind you.
  • Wednesday, Feb 13—Reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in a while.
  • Thursday, Feb 14—Bring a treat to a neighbor or your co-workers.
  • Friday, Feb 15—Donate your time or money to a local charity.
  • Saturday, Feb 16—Cook a healthy meal.
  • Sunday, Feb 17—Let someone go in front of you in line.

Whatever kind acts you choose, I’d like to hear your stories. Whether you are the giver or recipient of a random act of kindness, please tell us about it by leaving a comment below. After all, sharing your stories can help to inspire others to do good too!