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Random Acts of Kindness: How They Help Wellness and 15 Ideas for Paying It Forward

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” ― American novelist Henry James

When it comes to your mental health and wellness, kindness is kind of a big deal. Consider:

  • Performing acts of kindness and helping others can be good for your health and well-being, according to research published in 2020 by the American Psychological Association in the Psychological Bulletin, a peer-reviewed academic journal. The research, which involved a meta-analysis of 201 independent studies, also showed that random acts of kindness, such as helping an older neighbor carry groceries, were more strongly associated with overall well-being than more formal kindness activities, such as scheduled volunteer time for a charity.
  • While stress is a normal part of life, overwhelming stress can harm your health by affecting your ability to regulate your blood pressure. According to David Hamilton, Ph.D., an organic chemist and author of the book “The Five Side Effects of Kindness,” acts of kindness can produce oxytocin, which releases nitric oxide in the blood vessels, dilating those vessels. This reduces blood pressure.

Learn more about why good deeds are good for you, and get 15 ideas for random acts of kindness you can perform in your community.

Why You Should Pay It Forward

To see the benefits of paying it forward, look no further than the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, a nonprofit organization rooted in the belief that all people can connect through kindness. According to the foundation, which has an entire webpage dedicated to the benefits of being kind, research over the years shows:

  • Kindness increases the “love hormone” (oxytocin), energy, happiness, lifespan, pleasure, and serotonin.
  • Kindness decreases pain, stress, anxiety, depression, and blood pressure.

Looking specifically at stress, oxytocin counteracts the effects of stress by:

  • Improving sleep cycles.
  • Protecting the cardiovascular system.
  • Protecting the digestive system.
  • Reducing adrenaline and cortisol.
  • Relaxing the nervous system.
  • Stimulating the immune system.

The key to using kindness to reduce stress is to move toward repeated acts of it.

“These acts, even if they’re small acts of kindness, will become facilitated by empathy if practiced daily or frequently,” said Embark Behavioral Health Chief Clinical Officer Rob Gent. “This then stimulates the release of additional endorphins and oxytocin for both those receiving and showing kindness.”

How Others Are Paying It Forward

Stories about random acts of kindness make their way through the news year-round and especially near and during Random Acts of Kindness Week. Here’s a recent sampling:

  • In early 2022, a Tennessee teenager made scarves and tied them to poles with notes reading, “If you need this scarf, please take it and be warm and safe.” This wasn’t the first time 18-year-old Aunika Sharrock performed a random act of kindness. In 2021, she made over 50 goody bags and gave them to truck drivers. She’s also handed out $5 gift cards to strangers on the street.
  • In March 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 lockdown began, a Pennsylvania man sent pizzas to staff at a nearby hospital to lift their morale and show his support. Now, almost two years later, Phil Sanders is the leader of Delco Feeds the Frontlines Group, a community-supported group that performs random acts of kindness for staff at Philadelphia-area hospitals. “The more you give back, the more you realize just how much you have,” Sanders said in an interview with the Daily Times newspaper.
  • On her 30th birthday, a Maine woman decided to do 30 acts of random kindness. Now, 19 years later, Rita Durgin is still paying it forward. “I tried it that (first) year and it gave me such a good feeling I decided to keep it going,” she told the Sun Journal newspaper. Her kindness activities over the years have included baking cookies for co-workers, prefilling a vending machine with change, and donating $50 to a local animal shelter.

How You Can Pay It Forward: 15 Ideas

When deciding which random acts of kindness to do, you may already have plenty of ideas, like these five suggestions:

  1. Offer to babysit for your friends who have little kids so they can have a date night.
  2. Pay for the drink of the person behind you at your favorite coffee shop drive-thru.
  3. Put extra change in the parking meter in a busy downtown area.
  4. Write a letter of encouragement to a family member who’s going through a tough time.
  5. Mow the lawn of an elderly neighbor.

If you’re looking for inspiration, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has plenty of kindness ideas, including these five suggestions:

  1. Donate used towels or blankets to an animal shelter. They always need supplies.
  2. Foster a pet. Your kindness can help transition animals who are waiting to be adopted.
  3. Write a positive comment on a website story or blog. Send a little love to the author of that article or post you enjoyed.
  4. Ship a care package. Spread happiness through the post office!
  5. Find out something new about your co-worker. Instead of having the usual conversations, try to learn something you didn’t know before.

You can also find a wealth of ideas at “103 Random Acts of Kindness — Ideas to Inspire Kindness,” a blog post by Brad Aronson, author of the book “Humankind: Changing the World One Small Act at a Time.” His dozens of suggestions include these five ideas:

  1. Find opportunities to give compliments. “It costs nothing, takes no time, and could make someone’s entire day,” Aronson said in his post.
  2. On a hot day, give out cold Gatorades to your garbage men and mail carrier.
  3. Don’t ignore the next homeless person you see. Give that person food and enjoy the smile you get in return.
  4. If you print a coupon before going to a store, print extra copies and give them to other customers.
  5. Write a love note and hide it where your partner will find it.

As Aronson wrote in his blog post, “Seek out an opportunity to help every day. Hold open a door, offer assistance, help someone trying to get a stroller down the steps or take any random acts of kindness. Every small interaction with someone is an opportunity to have a positive impact on both of your lives.”

Gent agreed being kind can make a big difference.

“Acts of kindness can meet an individual’s emotional, physical, and relational needs,” he said. “When that happens, the positive effects can be amplified, felt not only by the giver and receiver but also by the other people in their lives. That’s the beauty of a random act of kindness: Its impact can be greater than you initially expect.”

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Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of outpatient centers and residential programs offering premier mental health treatment for preteens, teens, and young adults. Dedicated to its mission of reversing the trends of teen and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark offers a robust continuum of care with different levels of service and programming; has a deep legacy of over 25 years serving youths; works with families to adjust treatment in real time to improve results; treats the entire family using an evidence-based approach; and offers the highest levels of quality care and safety standards. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including virtual counseling, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), therapeutic day treatment programs, also known as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), short-term residential treatment, wilderness therapy, and long-term residential treatment, visit www.embarkbh.com.