Life this past year has been challenging. On top of personal stressors like having small kids and going through a divorce, I’ve also felt the weight of the world around me: global pandemic, racial injustice, contentious politics, and climate change. Through it all, I’ve seen firsthand how much acts of kindness matter.
It doesn’t surprise me that I’m more prone to shedding a few happy tears these days when I witness gestures of kindness — things like my friend leaving me a birthday surprise on my doorstep, seeing my daughter leave a sweet note for her brother, Amanda Gorman’s beautiful poetry, and stories of health care workers and civil servants going beyond their call of duty to help people.
Kindness Is Good For You (and Everyone Else!)
“A kind and compassionate act is often its own reward.” – William John Bennett
If you’re performing acts of kindness, chances are it’s to help someone or make them smile. But did you know that there are scientifically proven benefits of being kind? Research has confirmed that acts of kindness can reduce the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression — all while increasing your self-esteem, energy, and optimism. And on top of feeling calmer and happier, it’s good for your physical health too! Kindness helps lower blood pressure, reduce pain, and improve overall heart health.
“The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.” – Amelia Earhart
According to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, you don’t even have to be the one doing or receiving an act of kindness to feel the positive effects. How cool is that? Simply by witnessing a kind act, you get all the proven health and feel-good benefits. Studies also show that kindness can multiply. Whether you see, do, or receive an act of kindness, you’re more likely to pay it forward.
“Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.” – Samuel Johnson
One thing I practice myself and teach my kids is to be kind to all, not just those who are kind to us. I’m sure most of us can name a person who rarely smiles, is chronically grumpy, or is just plain rude. Those people might be the ones who need our kindness the most. Odds are there’s something behind their less-than-sunny disposition — they may be grappling with pain, a loss, trauma, or loneliness. Is it up to them to figure out how to work through their hurt? Yes. But can we be kind to them anyway even if we don’t particularly like them? Yup. Apparently this concept is not a new one and was practiced by a pretty popular Philadelphian — some call it the Benjamin Franklin Effect.
Ways to Practice Kindness
If you’re thinking that acts of kindness require time and money, that’s not always the case! Consider that sometimes doing nothing is one of the easiest ways to practice kindness. When you see something ridiculous or appalling on social media, skip writing a snarky comment. If someone cuts you off in traffic or won’t let you merge in, ignore it. Focus on adding good energy into the world instead.
Ready to take action? Here are some acts of kindness that don’t cost a thing:
- Say please and thank you (a lot!)
- Leave a nice note for someone (a friend, spouse, child, mail carrier, teacher, nurse)
- Smile at people when you pass them (even if you have a face mask on, your eyes look different when you smile!)
- Hold the door or elevator
- Pick up litter you see when you’re walking outside
- Mow someone’s lawn or shovel their driveway or sidewalk
- Let someone in while you’re driving
- Write feedback about a helpful employee in a store
- Offer your seat to someone who’s standing on the train or bus
And if you have a few dollars to spare, you could try for a bigger gesture: pay for the coffee/food of the person behind you in the drive-thru line or drop off a meal or treats to a fire station, police station, nurses’ desk at a hospital, or the break room at your child’s school. Especially after this past year, showing kindness to frontline essential workers is the least we can do to show gratitude for their heroic efforts.
Volunteering is another wonderful way to show kindness, and many get hooked on helping their community. It gives you a chance to connect with others and donate your time and energy to help someone in need. In the end, you’ll feel great knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life, and others will want to join you.
The bottom line? There’s no limit to how much kindness you can put into the world, and there will never be too much! Challenge yourself to do something kind each day that isn’t expected of you, and you’ll get the perks of better health and well-being.