From time to time, I have found myself to be the recipient of random acts of kindness. Sometimes given by strangers, sometimes by a friend of a family member, these occurrences are often bright spots in my day. Perhaps you have experienced something like this too– a stranger paying for your coffee at Starbucks or a friend sending you an unexpected card in the mail. These random acts of kindness, no matter how small, can often turn a bad day into a good one– both for the giver and the recipient.
But why is this? We could give a simple answer– it feels good to be kind to others and have others be kind to you. But something I learned recently is that there is scientific data to explain the phenomenon of random acts of kindness.
This study found that being kind stimulates the reward centers in our brains, allowing good chemicals to flood our systems. In turn, this gives us a sort of “helper’s high” and helps reduce stress and depression. The same study found that being altruistic can help lower blood pressure and reduce pain.
With all this in mind, it’s easy to wonder why we aren’t all kind all the time. You and I both know, however, that this is something easier said than done. We may start with the best intentions, but by the end of the day, we are worn out and not in the giving mood.
Recently I had a conversation with Sarah, an old friend of mine. She shared with me that she used to spend her weekends volunteering at a local food bank, but had fallen out of that practice over the past year. With all the bad news that has taken place over the past 12 months, she felt more tired and less generous. How, she asked, was she supposed to give to others when her own cup was empty?
I think one of the first people we need to be kind to is ourselves. Give yourself a break when you need one. And then remember that being kind to others often also means being kind to yourself as well.
Sarah and I continued to discuss how she can give to others. We came up with a few can-do’s with a big impact on how we give and receive acts of kindness. Here they are:
- Let go of negative thoughts in your life. It’s easy to dwell on everything that is going wrong or to hold a grudge, but the kindest thing you can do for yourself and others is to let all that go. Focus instead on even the smallest things that make you happy, like hearing a song you like on the radio or nice weather.
- Take time for yourself. As was the case with my friend, you can’t give others when you don’t give to yourself first. Today’s world can often be a high-stress environment, but it’s so important to take the time to slow down and breathe. Meditate, read a book, or go on a walk next time you feel your energy is depleted. After my conversation with Sarah, I was able to go to Starbucks and had my favorite chai tea. This act of kindness to myself was delightful and stayed with me for the day.
- Always look for the best in others. Look, you and I both know that oftentimes, this can feel almost impossible to do. When a coworker forgets to do their part of a project or someone cuts you off in traffic, it’s easy to assume their intentions were bad or that they were just being lazy and selfish. But what would it look like if we assumed everyone was trying their best all the time? Your coworker who forgot to work on a project could be working through something at home and feeling overwhelmed in the workplace. Instead of judging them or feeling frustrated, you could offer to help out.
- Be as kind as you can, whenever you can. Give a friend a genuine compliment. Overtip your delivery person. Let someone cut in front of you in line. Write a thank you note to your mail carrier. Smile under your face mask and tell someone about it. Be kind in any way you feel called to do so. If you engage in at least one random act of kindness a day, think of many lives you can positively impact! Not to mention you’ll be helping yourself out as well.
Since the pandemic started a year ago, there is more of a need for kindness now than ever. But personally, I have seen countless friends, family members, and strangers rise up to meet this challenge. This has demonstrated to me that, even in the most difficult times, we can all choose to be kind. My challenge for us is to begin engaging in random kindness as often as we can! I believe that we can do it and I believe that the world will be a better place because of it.
Yasser Youssef is the president of The Budd Group, one of the leading facility service companies in the country, a North Carolina-based company that provides facility support services in the Southeast. Throughout his career, Youssef has met leaders from all backgrounds, and believes leadership is for everyone. Over the past few years, he has developed an affinity for writing and contributing thought leadership, and is often asked to speak to businesses throughout the country about authentic leadership.