“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted” – Aesop
Even small gestures of kindness connect us to others and imbue our lives with meaning while building our positive emotion reserves.
Studies show that acts of kindness benefit both those who give and receive. They tend to increase energy, the release of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, and our lifespan!
Kindness also stimulates the reward centre of our brain, which in turn reduces pain and the release of stress hormones (e.g cortisol), anxiety, depression and blood pressure, as well as reducing the ‘emotional distance’ felt between people.
The positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brain of the giver and receiver, and they are also experienced by those who witness the act. This in turn improves their mood and makes them significantly more likely to “pay it forward”. Quite the ripple effect!
Here the Langley Group team shares some personal examples of random acts of kindness that have been memorable for them! Perhaps you could try them out for yourself during the Festive Season.
Ali – I sent a friend in the UK a Sweet Memories jar filled with Lindt balls and slips of paper, with instructions to savour each chocolate and, as she did so, reflect and write down a happy family memory. For each chocolate taken out of the jar – a sweet memory was put in. I received the most wonderful text from her expressing her surprise, her gratitude and her love. It made me feel really close to her even though we are on opposite sides of the world.
Some very dear friends from the US surprised my husband and I with an unexpected gift. They created a step by step ‘how to make’ a Lemon Drop Cocktail including before and after photos. This was linked to a special holiday we had spent together previously. In addition, they sent every piece of equipment and each ingredient so we would have no excuses not to make them! They arrived one package at a time over a period of a week with specific instructions to open in order. The time and effort taken had been considerable. It felt very special to be the receivers of such kindness and attention.
Frances – I was very fortunate to be a recipient of a Random Act of Kindness when travelling. With a large, very over-packed suitcase, I was struggling to make my way through the train station to board the train that went directly to the airport. A quietly spoken older gentleman asked if I’d like some help. He took my suitcase, weaved his way through the crowd and led me to the platform. He then boarded the train to make sure we knew where we were going. When we arrived at the airport, he took my case to the entrance and then turned to catch the train he was meant to be on. This beautiful man went out of his way by at least an hour of time and a great distance. A random act of kindness that happened 6 years ago that has had a lasting impact.
Leanne – My random act of kindness involves sharing with interstate visitors to Sydney. Over the years I have found myself disappointed by the way Sydney bus drivers (on occasion) neglect to support visitors to our city – being very brusque about where people need to buy an Opal card, exasperatedly answering questions about whether their bus goes to Circular Quay or where the Opera House is. I have always felt it is a pleasure to answer these questions, and swipe my opal card on the visitor’s behalf to ensure their experience is a friendly and enjoyable one. It takes no time and adds positively to the memory bank of that person.
The other night I had a great opportunity to extend this further. I had attended a fabulous theatre performance and as it was after 10.30pm and close to Christmas, there was a noticeable absence of buses, cabs or Ubers (two I had called did not attend). On the third attempt, I observed a couple of older ladies who had been waiting about half an hour like me. It turned out they were from Perth and unsure of how to get back to their hotel. One in particular was starting to look like she needed assistance after standing up for so long. I offered to take them in my Uber back to their hotel and when they offered money I chose to decline and said it was my pleasure to show them some Sydney hospitality while apologising for our poor transport options. They were so appreciative and relieved that they had been supported to get home safely. The lady who was less able bodied commented that “it is so heartening in this day and age to meet someone who honestly cares and takes time to help others”. It was no inconvenience for me and was my pleasure. I wish more people could share rides to help others and care more for the environment.
Another thing I like to do while donating a few dollars to a disadvantaged person who may be sitting on a city street, is to take the time to look them in the eye, say good morning, ask them genuinely “how are you today?”, listen to the response and then make a relevant comment, or ask a further question in order to engage them in a conversation. This brief interaction makes us both feel valued and lifts our positive emotion to set a nice tone for the rest of the day. Simple, easy and respectful. It also has the added benefit of giving my gratitude muscle a workout as a reminder of all the fortunate things I have in my life.
Sophie – When I’m interacting with someone (a friend or even a total stranger) and suddenly think something complimentary about them, I make sure I actually tell them (if appropriate). Sometimes we can feel embarrassed to pay compliments to people (especially strangers) yet every time I do, I love the smile and gratitude on people’s faces. And I am always so grateful and touched when people are kind enough to do the same for me. Sometimes a kind word can totally turn my day around.
One particular act of kindness that has stayed with me is one that was actually performed by my Mum on a total stranger. I had just moved to London, and had no functioning washing machine, so my mum kindly took some washing to the local laundromat for me while I was at work. That evening, she compassionately relayed how the owner of the laundromat had moved from Iran to support his daughter, as she was the first of his family to go to university, and that they were all so proud of her. I was amazed that my mum had gleaned this from a brief trip to the laundromat, and on recounting the story I could tell she had been touched and genuinely intrigued by his journey, even sharing his family’s joy. The next day, when I returned to pick up the clean laundry, the owner made a point of telling me what a special lady my Mum was. Her genuine interest in him had clearly touched him, and in turned it touched and inspired me.
I now make a more concerted effort to engage with the people I cross paths with; my taxi driver, my waitress, the person sitting next to me on the plane, the office cleaners, the guy at the till. Connection is so important and sometimes it can be the first time anyone has asked how their day is going. If I have enough time to learn more about them and if they are willing to chat, I love hearing everyone’s stories and it is incredible how easy it is to find common ground. I always feel a surge of positive emotion from these random connections and end up making friends in very unexpected places. And even more wonderfully, it always makes me feel close to my Mum, who is at home in Edinburgh.
Cat – My Random Act of Kindness seems quite insignificant yet it’s one that has always stuck with me.
Years ago, I was at the post office and I had to send off a few things for Christmas. I had just taken $20 cash with me, no cards or anything, as I was sure it wouldn’t cost more than that.
Anyway, as you know, Christmas time at a post office is officially the worst time to frequent one and I waited in line for about 40 minutes before it was my turn. I finally got to the server, she rung up my purchases and it came to $20.50. The thought of having to return home to get 50c and line up for 40 minutes again was soul destroying! When I explained I only had $20 on me and could bring back the 50c another time, I was told that wouldn’t do. As I started gathering up my things, a man in the never-ending queue behind me came forward and covered the 50c for me.
I know it is small, I just really appreciated it and it restored my faith in humanity, which is always a good thing!
I have then gone on to do the same thing for a lady in front of me on the bus and paid for her fare.
Mel – Here is a wee story about a random act of kindness…
When completing the Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing (10653NAT) I had a particularly memorable moment when we left the student sanctuary of the venue and strolled the main streets of Auckland looking for people to act random kindness upon.
With some trepidation, excitement, and openness we students explored the emotions and process of giving to strangers.
One of the acts, to give a coffee voucher to a stranger accompanied by kind words and best wishes for their day, sparked a very interesting story. With vulnerability, I approached a middle-aged lady, with bright blond curly hair and an expression on her face which I could not quite read straight away – she seemed plaintive and thoughtful.
Following my small gesture, she beamed, and then gave me a big embrace! It turns out she had saved a person from being hit by a bus that day – her rather significant act of kindness. This she explained to me in full detail, and she shared how it had really impacted her – positively! And that the small and meaningful gesture of a stranger stopping to wish her a wonderful day and shout a coffee, to her, was extraordinarily kind, unexpected and made her day!
I remember it so well. I think she felt the universe had moved that day!
Jacqui – My main random act of kindness tends to be for acquaintances rather than complete strangers. It usually involves giving them home baked goodies like biscuits or cakes – things they wouldn’t expect and are usually very grateful for.
I also do small random acts of kindness for strangers such as giving coins for shopping trolleys or buying a ‘pay it forward’ coffee – paying for an extra coffee which can be later claimed by someone who, for whatever reason, can’t afford the luxury of a latte.
The result is always the same – I feel such a well of positivity that lasts for ages. Sometimes people find it hard to receive a random act of kindness, so my advice is to persevere or to donate anonymously (as per a pay it forward coffee).
Sue – One of my random acts of kindness when we lived in Cremorne was always picking up litter because we used to live near a McDonalds. Sometimes on my morning walks I would go and clear up the street and I really liked that because no-one needed to know it was me.
Another, and perhaps my favourite random act of kindness to perform is when I am travelling home from a conference and have leftover Lindt balls. I like to give them away to strangers in the airport lounge and on the plane. Often people can be quite taken aback by the offer and will instinctively say ‘no’, and yet after seeing someone else accept a chocolate you can see they wish they’d taken one and so I will offer again. People are always really touched by the small act of kindness, even people who have said ‘no’ have come up to me after the flight to say thank you and that they were actually quite touched by the offer. I really enjoy doing it to see the surprise and pleasure on people’s faces. Now Qantas have started offering Lindt balls, I do it in the Qantas lounge beforehand, or sometimes on my bus home!
I have random acts of kindness performed on me all the time, and I feel so grateful. Sometimes a bunch of flowers will appear when I am doing a Diploma (that happened on the last two), and whilst one person told me they had bought them, the second person remained anonymous until the last day.
It is also the little thoughtful things my team have done for me. For example, when I was having a tough time in Toronto, Canada, I got back to my room one night and noticed in the dark there was something odd on the table that should not have been there. When I turned the light on it was dark chocolate covered strawberries with no note just a little image that I immediately knew had come from Ali in my team. That was very special.
There are always lots of lovely things others do and I think in general people are very kind. My normal everyday random act of kindness is often seeing how many people I can make eye contact with and smile. It might sound unexciting, and yet I think human connection is one of the most powerful things so that’s one of my little random acts of kindness.
I think it is a wonderful thing to do and I think the most important random act of kindness that you can do is to accept a random act of kindness. Say yes and say thank you.
Our small acts of kindness are not lost. They ripple out from us and have wonderful, unknown consequences in situations we could never imagine.
The Festive Season is the perfect time to practise your random acts of kindness, so why not read more about how to make a kind act really count here.
To learn more ways to apply positive psychology in your life, download your free eBook: 7 Ways to Apply Positive Psychology.