Kindness is contagious, and the impact of a single act of kindness should truly never be underestimated. There's really nothing complicated about doing something purely for the benefit of another living being, and as the literary genius, Henry James wisely observed, "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."
It might very well be in our nature to have feelings of empathy and compassion toward other living beings and to feel the natural impulse to act on it, even when there might seemingly be no personal rewards. This desire and internal compulsion to offer aid or to make someone’s day better is one we should never stifle, and more importantly, one that we should encourage to grow.
Scientists believe that the innate human reaction to provide aid in moments of distress may be based on survival instincts – A thriving community is inevitably built by people who support and help each other, developing strong social bonds which ultimately becomes irreplaceable cornerstones and infrastructures of any decent society.
Why though, do we perceive kindness as being contagious? Observing an act of kindness can create a sensation of warmth, goodness and joy. It seems that being in the presence of true human goodness makes us feel really good, and maybe even proud, a feeling which scientists describe as “moral elevation”. Though it may actually be really difficult to quantify these feelings, we can certainly agree that witnessing an act of kindness, however small or seemingly insignificant, has the power to create a ripple effect. We feel inspired to do the same for someone else, and be the bringer of joy that we just witnessed. This, in effect, allows for kindness to be contagious in the best sense of the word.
The Random Act of Kindness Foundation lay its roots in the United States of America, founded in 1995 in Denver, Colorado. This movement gradually grew and the Random Act of Kindness Day was officially created and honoured annually on February 17th. Celebrated by individuals, groups and organizations all around the world to encourage acts of kindness, it also has a pride of place in New Zealand, commemorated annually in September.
Truth be told, we don’t need an actual day to remind us to be kind, to say please and thank you, or to pay attention to someone who needs our help. Much like Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, the reasons for these honorary days serves the purpose of reminding us that these are important faculties of lives which should be remembered, even when no one’s looking.
Random Acts of Kindness come in all forms, large and small, and how you choose to perform yours is entirely personal. Very often, it’s the smallest act that has the ability to make the biggest impact - Something as simple as saying please or thank you can turn a day around and make a life seem that much better. This is a special day that encourages us to get out there and be the light we want to see in the world.
When was the last time you surprised someone at work with a cup of coffee, just because you thought they might need it? Or how long has it been since an unexpected and well-deserved note of thanks was presented to a friend? It can be such a pleasure working in a friendly environment, surrounded by a genuine interest in the well-being of people around you, and all it takes to create that positive atmosphere might be a few random acts of kindness.
Here are some small suggestions to make someone’s day a whole lot better:
- Send a handwritten note of appreciation to a friend.
- Let someone jump the queue at the bank.
- Pay for the drinks on the next table at a café.
- Give a huge tip to someone when they least expect it.
- Compliment a work colleague for their excellence, their patience or their outfit.
- Leave a copy of an interesting book on a train or a bus.
- And finally, Smile! It makes everyone in the room feel better because they, consciously or unconsciously, smile together with you. Growing evidence shows that an instinct for facial mimicry allows us to empathize with and experience other people's feelings. As the American motivational speaker and author William Arthur Ward puts it,"A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.".