In the 1980s the phrase, “Practice random acts of kindness,” was popping up everywhere – bumper stickers, billboards, decals on mailboxes and elsewhere.

I remember the first time I saw it. I was in my car and read it on the bumper sticker of the vehicle in front of me. This simple, yet profound message resonated deeply within me because it was a call to action – to live our lives with compassion and kindness towards each other.

In fact, I was so moved by it that I bought two “Acts of Kindness” emblems – a bumper sticker for my own car and decal that I put on my refrigerator. I also initiated conversations on this topic with my family and friends.

When I researched the genesis of this phrase, I learned that it started in 1982 when Anne Herbert wrote, “practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a restaurant placemat. It was the antidote to her frustration and despair about the “random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty” she witnessed in the United States and elsewhere – racial violence, police brutality and the Persian Gulf War.

This slogan led to the publication of Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty with co-author Paloma Pavel. Their book put forth an empowering message for world peace by focusing on true stories of acts of kindness.

This book quickly grew into a movement. In 1995, Random Acts of Kindness Day was launched in the United States to encourage people to practice kindness and pay it forward. It is an unofficial holiday that takes place on February 17.

In 1997, the World Kindness Movement was founded. This international organization with no political or religious affiliations connects nations to create a kinder world. Its international observance, World Kindness Day, takes place on November 13, whereby communities come together to create change through kind words and good deeds.

An unexpected gift or a kind word can lift the spirits of those around you. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Backdoor Survival.

Why are random acts of kindness gaining traction today?

The universal message of these movements – to make the world a kinder place – is not new. However, with so much negativity in the world, random acts of kindness are urgently needed. Every day the news media bombards us with stories of the global state of affairs – mass shootings, political and social unrest, hate crimes, racial and religious tensions, natural disasters, and political divisiveness with people viciously attacking and bullying each other. Many people are distressed by these events. I am, too.

In fact, a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 57 percent of respondents were stressed by the political climate. I worry about the world we are creating for our kids and grandkids. It’s much different than the world I grew up in.

I find myself self-soothing by singing songs like “What the World Needs Now (Is Love Sweet Love.)” I lift my spirits by practicing gratitude for the blessings in my life, seeking support from family and friends, and reading inspirational stories about ways in which people bring acts of kindness into their lives. It helps me to counter the negativity that’s out there and injects me with hope that there’s still good in our world.

In order to gain a sense of control over situations I have no control over, I consciously focus on everyday simple things I can do to be kinder person, including:

  • Support and encourage someone who is experiencing a life challenge
  • Listen without interrupting
  • Open the door for someone
  • Cook my family’s favourite meals
  • Smile at a stranger
  • Give a compliment
  • Get to know the name of the greeter where I shop
  • Wish someone a good day as I get off the elevator
  • Send texts to my family wishing them a glorious day
  • Ask someone if it’s convenient for them to talk when I call them
  • Have a conversation with a homeless person and buy them a meal
  • Thank a busker who entertains in the subway or on the street

    Smile at a stranger and make their day brighter. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Isaacpm.

Behind the science of kindness

Science confirms the benefits of being kind. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation discusses the scientifically proven benefits of being kind:

  • Protects the heart by lowering blood pressure.
  • Performing one random act of kindness a day reduces stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Floods the body with serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins the “feel good” hormones that make us and the people we help calmer, healthier and happier.
  • Reduces aches and pains, makes us more confident and increases longevity.
  • People who witness others performing acts of kindness or are the beneficiaries of such acts are filled with the same “feel good” hormones and are more likely to pay it forward by helping others.

Live kinder lives

Making the world a kinder place to live in begins with each and every one of us. That’s the lesson we learn from Anne Herbert – her slogan on a placemat launched an international movement of community, tolerance and love. So here’s the deal…

Our point of power is always in the present moment. It’s in this place that we can consciously choose to become kinder people and create a ripple effect that resonates within our families, communities and elsewhere.

As Maya Angelou, author and educator says: “When we know better, we do better.” So I’m encouraging you to take an inventory of your daily kindness actions and expand them by taking some action, no matter how small, right now in the present moment.

In the words of philosopher Eckhart Tolle,“The Time is Now.” Let’s commit to spread kindness everywhere we go.

“I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage, or bravery, or generosity, or anything else…kindness that simple word. To be kind – it covers everything to my mind. If you’re kind that’s it.”
– Roald Dahl

Doing your part

Please visit these websites for a list of ideas on how we can incorporate kindness into our everyday lives:

https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/the-kindness-blog/2943-50-kindness-ideas-for-random-acts-of-kindness-day

http://www.oprah.com/spirit/35-little-acts-of-kindness/all

Myra Giberovitch is an educator, consultant, author and professional speaker. She is adjunct professor, McGill University School of Social Work, specializing in gerontology and author of Recovering from Genocidal Trauma. Watch her speak at TedxMontreal – Genocide Survivors: Contributors Not Victims.

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