Work keeps piling up, news cycles look dark, and politics grow bitter. To counteract all the negativity on a personal level, could performing a random act of kindness first thing each morning send more positivity into the world? No matter what happens next, you'll have begun your day knowing you've worked to brighten someone else's.
The bonus: selfless, no-return-expectations giving not only helps others but also improves our own health and well-being. The most definitive studies of the “helper’s high” show that when we give, dopamine is released in the brain, providing a hit of pleasure, says Dacher Keltner, faculty director of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center and author of the recent book “The Power Paradox.” “Simply put, dopamine is released via the nucleus accumbens in the brain when we expect rewards,” Keltner says. “Separate studies find elevated activation in the nucleus accumbens when we cooperate, give to charity, love someone, and are appreciated by others.” Over time, the powerful dopamine hit you first receive from performing a random act of kindness may ebb—but that’s not a bad thing, according to Keltner’s colleague Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director of the Berkeley center. Over time, she says, you might experience more of a “slow, warm feeling in the heart” that is tied more into the brain’s systems for oxytocin, which fosters a sense of human connectedness.
The initial, “random” acts can inspire a longer-term giving habit, which studies have found related to reduced chronic stress and anxiety, Simon-Thomas says. “You are bringing a more subtle version of kindness into every moment by being more open to all the people you interact with,” she says. “Those longer-term changes are more factors in the health benefits [associated with] volunteering and dedicating more time to others.” To make the two-fold benefits of sharing kindness easy, here is a list of 12 low-cost ideas that range from encouraging others to donating to causes. Some can be done virtually, others in writing, and many in person. Take these as an inspirational starter pack—as you get into the daily kindness habit, you’ll start to see more opportunities to help people every day. 1. Handwrite a letter to someone who has inspired you lately. 2. Make a blood donation. 3. Review a small business positively on Yelp. 4. Bake cookies to share with your neighbors. 5. Thank a janitor, bring a cup of coffee to a security guard, or leave a treat for your office receptionist. 6. Refashion an old cabinet into a Little Free Library for your street or building. 7. Combat road rage—let another driver go ahead of you, beckon a pedestrian to cross, hold off from honking when there’s a delay, or pay the next car’s toll. 8. Compliment a business owner on an especially hard-working employee. 9. Or even write to another coworker’s manager to say what a great job they’ve done. 10. Online comments sections can be cesspools of negativity—change the tone by leaving a positive comment on a news article or blog post. 11. Send flowers anonymously to a friend who could use a pick-me-up. 12. Take a stack of your magazines, remove the mailing labels, and drop them off at a local hospital or nursing home for patients’ families to read.
And just for good measure, here are 12 more: 1. Send an encouraging note to a refugee. 2. Go through your clothes and other belongings, then donate any you no longer need. 3. Buy useful items like granola bars and socks in bulk to keep in your car so you’ll never be without something to share someone who is homeless. 4. Go around with some quarters and feed parking meters. 5. Send a note of appreciation to a member of your extended family who really helps keep everyone connected. Or to the friend who always plans your reunions. 6. Find a way to give away that extra gift card to someone in need. 7. Break out rubber gloves and a trash bag, and undertake a mini litter cleanup along a street or park you’ve noticed could use it. 8. Give a stranger a meaningful, sincere compliment. 9. Tape a note of encouragement and thanks on a local business’s door. 10. Reconnect with an old friend, and share a memory you’ve kept with you. 11. Leave a Thank You note for the person who delivers your mail. 12. Offer to babysit for a friend.