How Random Acts of Kindness Can Make You Happier
I like to think that I’m a nice person. We all like to think that. Everyone likes to think that I’m a nice person. I hold the door open for others, including burly, able-bodied men who never say thank you. I always politely thank service staff, such as restaurant servers and hotel personnel. And I basically do the Lord’s work for a living. Okay, so I’m an angel. But I could always be kinder. So this week I set out to be kinder by doing an act of kindness for a stranger each day. Many studies show that being kind to others is a surefire way to feel happier, but did you know that practicing kindness can also boost your physical health?
Kindness Method Tip: Don't Bully Others
My week of kindness began on Monday morning, as I walked into the lobby of my office building, rushing to get to work. I had to appear in court that morning and was already running late. As I entered the elevator, I saw a woman entering the lobby doors, slowly waddling and taking her sweet time. Ordinarily, I would simply press the “door close” button, rationalizing that if she wanted to get in this elevator, she would stop waddling and start sprinting. But, kind Nisha pressed the “door open” button and patiently waited for the lady to waddle into the elevator. She thanked me, and I cheerfully said “Not a problem. What floor can I press for you?” As she exited the elevator, I blurted out, “Have a wonderful Monday!” How’s that for 5-star elevator service?
For the next few hours, I felt pretty great about being the world’s kindest elevator operator. However, as the day wore on, the triviality of my act of kindness began to set in. I started to feel ashamed that my act of kindness for the day was to not purposefully close an open elevator on a woman who clearly had trouble walking at a reasonable pace. In other words, simply not bullying those with special needs qualified as an act of kindness in my book.
On Tuesday, I had to appear in housing court again, and I had a case on with my arch-nemesis. This particular attorney is a she-devil who is not only incredibly incompetent but also an unethical, nasty person. And she has facial whiskers like a cat. Amidst her yelling at me in court and accusing me of being a liar, I had the strongest urge to start meowing like a cat and exclaiming “Rawrrr, kitty got claws!” while making this facial expression. However, in my effort to be kind, I refrained from these insults and just let her ramble along, watching with joy as her face reddened and dripped with sweat.
Kindness Method Tip: Giving Money is Easy
By day 4, I was feeling downright pessimistic about my ability to perform acts of kindness for strangers in New York City. So I took my kindness efforts online. I thought about leaving nice comments on Ted Cruz’s campaign website, like “Your smile isn’t that creepy when I close my eyes” or, “Your face only looks like it’s covered in Vaseline. It’s obviously not really covered in Vaseline.”
As much joy as trolling Ted Cruz would have brought me and many strangers, I settled on donating to the victims of the recent earthquake in Ecuador. Which made me feel simultaneously good and bad. Good because I donated to people in need, duh. Bad because it took 30 seconds of my time and literally zero effort. It wasn’t hard in the way that approaching strangers in public and going out of your way to spread kindness is hard. Throwing money at problems is easy. Opening yourself up to strangers is not.
So I vowed to practice kindness in person, instead of behind a screen, for the rest of the week. I finished the last three days of the week by giving a waitress a 50% tip, helping an obviously drunk woman carry her groceries up the subway stairs, buying a homeless man an umbrella when it was raining, and thanking an overwhelmed barista for his patience and cheerful attitude. That’s right, I squeezed in four acts of random kindness in just three days! I am awaiting sainthood as I type.
Kindness Lessons Learned
None of my acts of kindness required herculean efforts, but they did require me to go out of my way in some capacity -- whether it was being more liberal with my finances, more generous with my time, or more willing to converse with strangers. Even if my acts of kindness weren’t the most selfless or magnanimous acts, committing to a week of kindness was a great experience because it made me be mindful of the importance of being kind. Every time I walked outside, one of my first thoughts was how can I do something kind for someone else? Don’t get me wrong, it was exhausting to constantly ask myself that, but it was a nice change from my usual New York City pattern, which amounts to how can I get to where I’m going in the fastest, least inconvenient way, while interacting with as few people as possible?
I don't think a week of kindness was long enough to notice a change in my health, but I certainly did experience a mood booster after performing these selfless acts. In other words, if you're a jerk and have a hard time being nice to other people, just know that there is also a selfish reason to be kind to others: it will make you feel happier! So, all of you jerks out there, just be nice! K, thx, bye.
Interested in practicing a week of kindness but don’t know where to start? For starters, it’s going to rain all week in New York City, so if you live in the area, stock up on a few umbrellas and donate them to those in need. Or, check out this awesome list of 88 Ways to Make a Stranger Smile! Regardless of what you do, (1) it will make you feel happier, and (2) it will probably be better than yelling “Love your sweatshirt!” to a haphazardly dressed woman on the street.
Hope you all have a wonderful week full of kindness! Next week, I'm focusing on a healthy diet and will be experimenting with a 100% vegan diet. Brb, going to stuff my face with a pound of cheese before this week starts.