It's Random Acts of Kindness Week, so here's a quick experiment to try. Think of three times when someone surprised you with a kind deed.
Thought of three? Good. Hold onto those memories. In a moment, I'm going to make some predictions about them – after I've shared a few recollections of my own.
When I tried this experiment, my mind took me to a rainy roadside, and a day when I was slogging home with a heavy bag of groceries. As a fairly fit young student, I was used to walking everywhere, but even I was struggling with the horizontal rain and a sodden, ready-to-burst bag.
And then a cab driver pulled up alongside me. "You're look like you could do with a lift," he said. "Let me take you home – no charge."
Another time, mid winter, when my wife and I were particularly exhausted with our young family, a neighbor appeared at the door as we were still struggling to clear away breakfast. She explained that she'd scraped the ice from our car's windshield when she was doing her own. "I'm happy to do that every morning, too – if it helps?"
And my third memory goes back to one of my first jobs. I'd just finished a particularly gruelling early shift, when my boss – who rarely even spoke to me the rest of the time – announced out of the blue that he was buying me breakfast. "You deserve this," he said, "after the morning you've had!"
I can taste that delicious cinnamon toast now. More importantly, I still vividly remember the impact of his kindness.
Now think about the three acts of kindness you remembered. Here are those predictions I promised.
First, I'm confident that you found this task easy. Acts of kindness like these, especially when they're a surprise, are affecting and memorable. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website contains many hundreds of similar examples. It seems that everyone remembers times when they were boosted by a good deed, however small, however long ago.
Second, I bet remembering yours felt good. Witnessing acts of kindness, even through the lens of memory, produces oxytocin, which helps to lower blood pressure, increases optimism, and boosts self-esteem. Kindness also bumps up the production of serotonin, which in turn makes you feel happy and relaxed.
And third, I predict that this task has got you thinking. I wouldn't be surprised if you're already considering random acts of kindness that you might be able to do. Because kindness is contagious. It's hard to think of a good deed you've enjoyed without being inspired to do one yourself.
The organizers of Random Acts of Kindness Week have already persuaded 30,818 people to join in, aged from 14-89, in 87 countries around the world. They call these people RAKtivists, and they're keen to recruit more.
Here at Mind Tools, we also believe that everyone's actions make a difference. What's more, good deeds shouldn't feel difficult. They don't have to cost anything, and you don't even need to like the person you help! But, by doing something for them, you stand the chance of improving their day – maybe even making them feel a bit better about themselves.
You create connections, strengthen teams, and improve the atmosphere. You play your part in what could become a kindness revolution.
I still believe it's important that these random acts are... well, random. Yes, we should always be looking to have a good impact through our jobs, helping our neighbors, scheduling treats for our teams at work. But very often it's the one-off, out-of-the-blue opportunities that have the greatest power.
So keep your eyes open. Spot when you're in the right place at the right time to do something nice. A good trick is to ask yourself what would mean something to you, if you were in the other person's shoes.
Make sure that you don't have any ulterior motives. After all, this isn't about personal gain, or getting someone to "owe you one." And sometimes you'll need to say why you're doing something nice, to avoid suspicion and put people at their ease.
But your random acts can be as simple as bringing in cake for colleagues, swapping queue places with a stranger in a rush, or even just surprising someone with a smile. With the right mindset, you'll notice all sorts of ways to be kind.
Thinking about this has definitely energized me to do some RAKtivism of my own. I reckon I'm fairly good most of the time. But let's see what happens if I step things up a bit this week, and try to make my acts a bit more random, more impactful – and more memorable.
Instead of just making someone a coffee, is there a quick task I could help them with – so that they have time to actually finish their drink for once?
Perhaps there's someone I know who's struggling at the moment? If I was them, what might make me feel that someone had noticed – and cared?
Maybe I can even develop habits that will last beyond Sunday! It can't hurt to try. And if I get it right, it won't only be the people I'm kind to who benefit.
A recent study showed that people with generous attitudes are the happiest overall. And RAKtivism has been linked to other health benefits. Researcher Christine Carter, from the University of California, Berkeley, reports that people who volunteer regularly have a 44 percent lower likelihood of dying early.
Kindness seems to have serious knock-on effects. Do a good deed for someone and you feel better about yourself, they feel looked after, and even bystanders notice the world's brightness going up a notch.
Will it make them more likely to "pay it forward" themselves – creating a sort of "domino effect" of kindness? I certainly hope so.
After all, if I predicted right, you're already planning a bit of RAKtivism yourself!
Why not take some time this week to check out the Mind Tools Random Acts of Kindness article and video, for more ideas about sampling life as a RAKtivist?
And we'd love to hear about the good deeds you've already done – plus any times when you were on the receiving end. Did these attempts at kindness always have the desired effect? And what's your message to others during Random Acts of Kindness Week?
Please be kind enough to share your experiences and insights in the comments section, below!
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"It started with an ice-breaker. I found myself face-to-face with the head of the whole company. And as I started answering the question, I began to cry, right in front of him. " Melanie Bell
"You don’t have to have the answers, you don’t have to “fix” anything, that person may not want your opinion. It’s much better to regularly check-in, take time to be present and empathically listen without judgment." - Kate Peters