Random Acts of Kindness

Umbrella

Let’s face it, 2016 hasn’t been the best year for the human race. I think there is a universal feeling of despondency, despair, and apprehension at what is to come after twelve months’ worth of news about, frankly, terrible events worldwide. But the world is not all bad. In fact, most of it is good. And these good people, like you and I, can help inspire happiness and renew confidence in our shattered society through random acts of kindness. But what is a random act of kindness and why do they happen?

These ‘acts’ are random, first and foremost, which often means they aren’t planned. Something or someone may inspire the act in the blink of an eye, such as seeing a beggar or coming across a person who needs help such as an elderly person or a lost tourist. Whether you give a homeless person some change (a controversial act at the moment – most people agree food is a better donation), or help an old lady across the streets, these acts are usually not pre-meditated and the kind person doesn’t get anything out of them.

Actually, that last point is not strictly true. Us do-gooders, and yes I do count myself as one of them, are usually rewarded with a delightful feeling of happiness deep inside ourselves. So whilst these deeds are most definitely good and benefit the person we are helping, the deed-doer is also getting something out of it. Perhaps it isn’t tangible or even measureable – measuring happiness is something scientists still struggle to do. But it’s there. And what’s more, it’s addictive.

It wasn’t a conscious decision of mine to start doing good deeds. I suppose I was raised to be aware of others around me and to help as and when I was able to. I simply consider it polite to offer my seat on the bus or train to someone who is elderly, disabled, or pregnant. But once I started to do things like that, I found myself consciously looking for opportunities to perform these ‘random’ acts of kindness. It’s like a drug, only with no negative side effects and it leaves you with a lasting high which can even transmit to others.

Because research shows us that random acts of kindness may not be so random. We are more likely to do something nice to other people if we have experienced a good deed ourselves. It’s called the law of reciprocity and relates to the fact that as human beings we are inspired by the acts of other people. Of course this law can work both ways, so good acts and bad can inspire reciprocation. In the turbulent, uncertain, damaged world we now live in, good acts and the domino effect they can motivate are more important than ever before.

Societies have always contained inequalities. It appears to be the nature of the human race to need to dominate one another and create hierarchies in some form or another. And increasingly these socially constructed divisions are coming into conflict with one another and filling the world with hatred and distrust. I’m not suggesting the readers of this blog have the power to solve the various social problems which plague our planet, but we do have the ability to spread a little joy. Perhaps buying a cup of coffee for a cold homeless man won’t end racial hatred. Helping an old lady with her shopping bags won’t stop terrorism. But it will make that man and that woman thankful for your kindness and in turn you will feel a flicker of happiness deep inside you, one that will burn for days until you can replenish that source and perform another act.

I’m not telling you to go out now and start doing good right this minute. I don’t believe these sorts of acts can be premeditated. That almost defeats the point of them: random, remember? But I do recommend you try performing one. Whether you simply offer your seat on the bus to someone, or provide a confused tourist with directions, or even lend money to a friend, the act itself will not only make the person you help happy but also yourself. I’m not saying you should go around helping people because you want to feel good about yourself; it just happens to be one of the wonderful side effects which result from a random act of kindness.