Kindness connects us to each other. It shows people that they are worthy of love. Acts of kindness can be large or small, and for people you know or have never met before. According to Aesop: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, will ever be wasted.”
It is easy to underestimate the power of kindness to change someone’s day or even their life. A frown turned upside down. A new skip to their step. The confidence to apply for that dream job or ask someone on a date or reach out for help. All because of knowing that someone cares; whether it’s a compliment or a kind act when we were least expecting it.
It warms our hearts to receive kindness, and just as much to give it. The deep connection it creates, however fleeting, is a hand held out to each other. More than anything it is an affirmation of our shared humanity. In the words of author and speaker Dr Leo Buscaglia:
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
We’re all struggling in some way; to find purpose, to pay the bills, to deal with losing a loved one. It makes all the difference to know we’re not alone.
Four Types of Kindness
We all know that performing kind acts bring us joy but what type gives us the biggest happiness boost? Is it being a shoulder to cry on for a friend in need? Smiling at someone you don’t know on the street? Or seeing somebody help another person with their groceries?
A new study published in the Journal of Social Psychology investigated how different types of kindness affect our happiness. There were 683 people from all over the world involved in the study, from the United States to South Africa and Brazil. Participants were divided into four groups, along with a control group, and asked to practice at least one act of kindness every day for a week:
- Direct kindness towards people they were close to (i.e., friends and family)
- Direct kindness towards people they were less close to (i.e., strangers or people they didn’t know well)
- Practice self-kindness
- Observe acts of kindness carried out by other people
People in the first two groups were asked to do different acts of kindness than they normally would, such as paying for somebody’s library fees, handing out flowers on the street or writing a loved one an encouraging poem. Those doing acts of self-kindness were asked to do the same.
It was predicted that performing acts of kindness for others, particularly for those we care about, would make people the happiest. Ultimately, the study found that kindness to people we are close to, to people we don’t know, and to self, as well as observing acts of kindness, have equally positive effects on happiness.
Surprisingly, the happiness boost is the same, whether you give someone a hug or watch one being given. It turns out that kindness in all its forms is like a hug you give yourself, and I had to try it for myself.
Kindness Comes from the Heart
Each week for a month, I performed acts of kindness for strangers…
- Left money in a shopping trolley for the next person at the supermarket to use
- Filled my unused handbags with small necessities and gave them to a charity for homeless women
- Paid for the person behind me at my local café to have a coffee and a sweet treat
For my friends and family…
- Left a note on the desk of a work colleague saying what I appreciate most about them
- Picked my parents up from the airport with a ‘welcome home’ bunch of sunflowers
- Cooked a dinner from scratch and dropped it to some friends who have a new baby
And for myself, I did small acts of self-care every day.
I also observed acts of kindness around me. I saw a little boy give his sister the first lick of an ice cream. I noticed a couple look after a lost dog until the owner came to claim it. And when I left the coin in the supermarket trolley a man chased after me trying to give it back. It made me think of the Dalai Lama and his belief that kindness lies at the heart of being human:
The true essence of humankind is kindness. There are other qualities which come from education or knowledge, but it is essential, if one wishes to be a genuine human being and impart satisfying meaning to one’s existence, to have a good heart.
Just as the study predicted, all of these types of kind acts brought me happiness. Every time someone smiled my heart burst.
20 Kindness Ideas
Kind acts can be a grand gesture or a simple surprise, but for more of a happiness boost, research shows that it’s better to have variety. Here are 20 simple acts of kindness that you can try:
- Feed a parking meter–Give someone the gift of extra time.
- Donate blood–Your generosity could save a life.
- Help with a chore–Offer to lift, deliver or fix something for a friend.
- Pay for an extra coffee–There’s nothing like a free latte to brighten anyone’s morning.
- Start a community garden–Connect with your neighbours over a vegetable patch.
- Write a gratitude letter–Express your appreciation with a thank you note.
- Ask an elderly person about their past–You might be surprised by what you learn.
- Take time to really listen to a friend–Sit down and listen, really listen.
- Make a small present for someone–Knit, carve or paint a gift from the heart.
- Volunteer at a local charity–Give a helping hand to your community.
- Give a genuine compliment–Don’t just think it, say it.
- Hold the door open–Little things matter.
- Smile at someone new–You might just make their day (and yours!)
- Organise a cleanup party–Pick up litter at your local park or beach.
- Be polite on the road–Lift your hand from the steering wheel for a friendly wave.
- Hold a fundraiser–Find a cause you believe in and support it.
- Share a book you’ve enjoyed reading–Share the wisdom of other people’s words.
- Donate stuff that you no longer need–Live simply.
- Text someone good morning or goodnight–Remind them that they are in your thoughts.
- Allow someone to help you–Give them the boost they need.
Whatever you do, it doesn’t matter as much as simply showing that you care. We don’t need to struggle alone. All of us want, more than anything, to know that we are loved. Poet and activist Maya Angelou puts it perfectly:
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
There are so many ways that we can spread love through kindness. It’s the most heartwarming form of connection.