How Random Acts of Kindness Can Make You Happier

How Random Acts of Kindness Can Make You Happier
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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.

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Performing Random Acts of Kindness in NYC

Following this hot mess of an interaction, I headed to my favorite coffee shop nearby to enjoy a cup of herbal tea and calm my nerves. My first instinct was to offer to pay for the person behind me as my act of kindness, but there wasn’t a single other person in line. I considered going up to the man sitting behind me and asking him if I could buy him another cup of coffee, but that just seemed like a creepy way to inadvertently hit on a stranger. While I was drinking my tea, I saw a busboy struggle to pick up two giant bags of fertilizer, which he was carrying to the plants outside. Recognizing my opportunity to assist, I leaped up and asked him if I could help him carry those bags of horse shit. He glanced at my petite frame, let out a confused chuckle, and kept walking. So far, my only act of kindness on Tuesday, then, was to not make fun of an incompetent woman’s facial hair. I was noticing a pattern to my acts of kindness.

That night, I was meeting my friend from college for dinner. On my walk to the restaurant, I saw what appeared to be a homeless man sitting on a bench outside a cafe, sorting through a few coins. I approached him with the intention of offering him some more money or buying him a meal, but then I noticed he had a new iPhone. And nicer shoes than me. He was just another unshaven hipster trying to get rid of all of his change, just like the rest of us.

I did buy my friend dinner that night, but that didn’t exactly count as an act of kindness towards a stranger. So, on my walk home from dinner, I tried to sniff out every opportunity to be kind to a person on the street.

A word on being kind to strangers in a big city. As a young woman, it is not easy to spontaneously and randomly be nice to strangers. Our world is so f’ed up that I have to be cautious about being kind simply because the male species is so perverted. The first glance from a woman who doesn’t look like a porcupine is the only invitation that many men need to undress a woman with their eyes. On my walk home, I saw two bros walking together, and one of them was sporting a very stylish suit. I considered complimenting him on his suit but realized how forward that would sound. Luckily, I saw a woman approaching me and I became committed to complimenting her in any way possible. Unfortunately for me, she was wearing black pants and a dark sweatshirt, the most boring of outfits. Her hair was messy and windblown. And, she didn’t even have a cute dog on a leash. As she walked by, I gleefully yelled out, “Love your sweatshirt!” She seemed surprised, unsurprisingly so. Her sweatshirt was from the early 1990s and said “UCONN” for the University of Connecticut. Welp, at least I tried.

By Wednesday, I gave myself permission to modify my week’s mission of kindness - the recipient of my good deeds no longer had to be a stranger because, frankly, it’s really hard to do nice things for strangers in New York City. The very spirit of New York City makes it almost impossible to be nice to strangers. Everyone is walking a mile a minute, headphones glued to their ears, fingers handcuffed to their phones. Why? People want to be left alone. Nobody wants you to approach them on a busy sidewalk and announce that you love their handbag. That would require them to not only remove their earbuds but also risk interacting with a stranger who may well be a Jehovah’s Witness advocate, or worse, a Greenpeace activist who just wants to know if you have two minutes to save the environment.

The NYC subway system is one place teeming with opportunities to be kind to strangers. Not like opportunities to actually make conversation with strangers, but opportunities to do small polite acts. Like, offer your seat to someone who looks like they need it more than you do, or offer a tip to the many performers who sing and jump their way down the subway cars. Or simply not manspread. Not taking up three seats with your not-so-enormous penis is an act of kindness! Gentlemen, take notes!

Being kind to wild animals is a lot easier than being kind to humans.

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.