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18 Ways to Spread Joy on Random Acts of Kindness Day – And Everyday

Kindness is simple and doesn’t have to require a lot of time, money or effort

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Robert Samuel Hanson

It starts raining on your walk to work and you didn’t bring an umbrella. You stop by your favorite cafe for a cup of Joe and spill coffee all over your sweater. Or maybe you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

Days are filled with challenging moments – big and small. Thankfully, there’s an antidote to all that negativity that’s easy and free: kindness. And with February 17 being National Random Acts of Kindness Day, it’s a great time to start!

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“Kindness is uncomplicated,” says Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook School of Medicine in New York. “It doesn’t take much to be kind.”

And the best part: We all have kindness built in, says Post, 72, adding that babies show natural kindness as early as 6 months old.

As for the trope that the older we get the crankier we get, “I think that’s just a stereotype. I don’t believe it for a minute.” Older adults are often more dedicated to the well-being and happiness of others, “because they realize that their time is going short,” says Post. “And so in a lot of ways, mortality, I think, is the mother of kindness.”

Here is why kindness is good for everyone and 18 big and little ways to be kind.  

Kindness has all sorts of benefits

Kindness helps you live longer. A random act of kindness, however small, can have a positive health impact on both the recipient and the giver.

Much like sleep, exercise and diet, kindness should be factored into your day-to-day life as part of healthy living, as it’s rather important to survival, says Emiliana Simon-Thomas, the science director at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, California.

A 2023 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine showed that engaging in “informal helping” (or random acts of kindness) is associated with decreased mortality.

Kindness “makes you live longer [and] makes you less vulnerable to the main kind of disease states that are of concern for Americans in later life,” says Simon-Thomas, 51.  

Kindness reduces negative emotions. Kindness has health benefits, but it also just feels good. In fact, Post says practicing or receiving kindness actually reduces negative emotions.

“Neurologically, when you’re kind, it actually turns off the neural circuits that are associated with negative emotions like hostility, anger, bitterness, resentment.”

It can also bring about meaning and connection.

“When you help others, you cannot be lonely, by definition,” says Post. “Our communities benefit when older adults take it upon themselves to be role models for kindness. That’s the purpose of life in old age.” 

Kindness can help others feel more at ease. Post has spent his career studying and writing about compassionate care within the medical industry. He points to his own peer-reviewed research published in July 2023 that concludes that when doctors show basic kindness – by greeting a patient with a smile, asking questions about the patient’s daily life, listening carefully and appearing interested in the patient – it may improve the patient’s perception of their care. Bedside manners won’t cure someone of what ails them, but it can develop trust, says Post.

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Robert Samuel Hanson

How to integrate kindness into your every day

The receivers of kindness can range from strangers, family, friends and coworkers, and, yes, even ourselves. Here are a few ways to get started being kind to others:

Bring in your neighbor’s newspaper. If you’re already walking by their mailbox, you can take a minute of your day to bring your neighbor’s newspaper or mail to their front porch. (Plus, you’ll be adding to your step count.)

Ask someone what made them laugh. We can all use a good laugh. Ask someone to give details about the last thing that made them laugh out loud, Simon-Thomas suggests.

Be curious. Post says that by asking others how they’re feeling or how their family is doing, for example, you are showing kindness by showing you care.

Give a compliment. “Another easy go-to act of kindness is to offer a compliment,” even to people you don’t know well, says Simon-Thomas. Do you like their sweater? Say it – a compliment on someone’s attire is applauding a choice they made that day.

Send a sweet text. It feels good to receive a text from an old friend you haven’t heard from in a while. Simon-Thomas suggests taking it up a notch and sending your favorite poem to your friend.

Use snail mail to spread kindness. “Write a letter and mail it to a friend or family member,” Simon-Thomas says. It’s sure to lighten up the stack of bills and brighten someone’s day.

Be playful. Small talk doesn’t have to be humdrum. Consider making a lighthearted joke to lighten the mood in a conversation and to “move people out of their preoccupations,” Post says.

Hold the door. As mundane as it seems, taking a few seconds to hold the door for someone who is a bit further behind you, says Simon-Thomas, can make them feel acknowledged and like they belong.

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Leave money behind for a stranger. Leaving money at a vending machine or on a counter for someone else to take advantage of is an anonymous way to be kind to a stranger, says Margaret Echelbarger, assistant professor of marketing at Stonybrook University, who researches prosociality (or behaviors we engage in that are intended to benefit others). You can also send funds to a distant friend or family member to treat themselves to a coffee.

Pay for the person behind you in line. If you’re in a busy drive-through, picking up the tab for the order behind you can cause a chain reaction of kindness. The recipient could be having a great day already and decide to also pay for the person behind them, “or it can really pull someone up who just really needed it in that moment,” says Echelbarger.

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Give a gift certificate to a bonding experience. “Give someone a gift certificate for a shared outing – like a walk together and snacks,” suggests Simon-Thomas.

Give a coupon book for different chores. Take a load off of someone’s busy schedule by offering to do a chore for them. “Tell someone that you want to be kind, but let them pick the timing of that kindness,” says Echelbarger.

Get active-ist. Simon-Thomas says taking part in causes you care about is good for you and your neighbors, whether you encourage your neighbors to register to vote or you become an activist for another cause you care about.

Plant trees or free little libraries. Kindness in public spaces, like planting trees or establishing – or adding to – free little libraries can benefit more than one person at a time. Echelbarger calls free little libraries “one of the most sustainable forms of kindness that I have seen in my own life. And I love walking by them putting books in them myself.”

Do an outdoor chore for someone. Echelbarger says picking up trash from a neighbor’s yard or shoveling their driveway is a kind helping hand. “Sometimes when people have snowblowers, they will go down their whole block because it’s so easy for them,” says Echelbarger. “They’re really taking a load off some of their neighbors.”

And here are a few ways to be kind to yourself

Take a breather. It sounds rudimentary, but it triggers calm and rest in your nervous system and signals to your body that you’re safe and provided for, Simon-Thomas says. “Being able to walk through the world with that mindset is a greater contribution to your overall well-being and your capacity to interact with other people in friendly and generous ways.”

Reflect on what brings you solitary joy and do it. Whether it’s knitting, jigsaw puzzles or something else, indulge in what brings you joy. Simon-Thomas says she likes to spend time noticing the little things in her garden: the blooming flowers, the caterpillar munching on a leaf. “I do that as an act of kindness, spontaneously,” she says, adding that tapping into that awareness, “invites my mind to see things in a more curious and kind of wonder-infusing way.”

Schedule time for self-care. Whether it’s a massage, a haircut, or just a coffee date with a yummy treat and your gratitude journal, Simon-Thomas says “those are wonderful ways to just bring in little moments of joy that can be a big contributor to your overall health and well-being.”

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