Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) bring happiness to strangers when they least expect it. The goal of such acts are "To make our world a kinder place one act at a time." The RAK movement was started in 1982, by a woman named Anne Herbert. She wrote the phrase "practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty" on a placemat in a restaurant in Sausalito, California. Years later, Anne wrote Random Acts of Kindness, a book about true stories of acts of kindness. As the movement grew, more and more people were inspired by the idea that simple acts of kindness, directed toward strangers, could change the world for the better. RAK is now internationally known and celebrated on different days around the world and continues to have a positive impact on people’s lives.

Random Acts of Kindness not only bring happiness to the people around you, but also to yourself. Finding new ways to connect is a wonderful experience, and being kind to others brings fulfillment to your life overall. In addition, being kind is actually scientifically proven to make you happier and healthier! According to David R. Hamilton PhD, “Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone, oxytocin, in the brain and throughout the body. Of recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system”.

In the United States, February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Day. However, making the world a kinder place shouldn’t be limited to just one day of the year. Here are ten ways people can perform random acts of kindness every day:

1. Pay for the person behind you on your morning coffee run- the smallest things can put a smile on someone’s face, and free coffee early in the morning could make someone’s day just a little bit brighter.

2. Commend a co-worker on their work- everyone deserves to have their efforts recognized, no matter how big or small!

3. Buy extra groceries and donate them to your local food pantry- every bit counts and you can help people in your community during a grocery trip you’d go on anyway.

4. Send a note (or text) to encourage a friend- you never know how people are feeling, and hearing from you just might make their day!

5. Bring sweets to share at work- surprise snacks are a great way to bring positivity into the office, and what better way to greet those you haven’t had the chance to meet yet than with food. Building community make everyone feel welcome and special and makes for a positive work environment.

6. Let someone ahead of you in line- we all know the feeling of dread when we see that the person ahead of us at the grocery store has a cart brimming with groceries and we just want to buy a loaf of bread. Make someone’s day by letting them go ahead of you- who knows? Someone may return the favor down the road.

7. Compliment someone- it can be as simple as their new hairstyle, or their shoes, but compliments are sure to make someone smile and they help you to see the best in others.

8. Volunteer in your community- whether it’s at a soup kitchen or a local school, you can help your community flourish with just a few hours of your time.

9. Introduce yourself to your neighbor- it’s easy to go about life in a constant rush, but making meaningful connections with the people around you creates a sense of community for everyone!

10. Invite someone to lunch- whether it’s a stranger who seems interesting, or a new co-worker in the office, a simple, friendly gesture can go a long way, and you never know who you’ll meet by just introducing yourself.

It’s been said that the only constant in life is change. If that is the case, then why is change sometimes so difficult to cope with when it happens?

Perhaps it is that when change occurs, it doesn’t provide much warning, so there’s little time to prepare. When we are caught off guard, we are forced to react instinctively as opposed to being able to tackle events proactively. Although change in and of itself may be scary, and at times anxiety provoking, change doesn’t always have to be synonymous with something bad.

Perhaps if we look at change in a more positive light we can start thinking of it as a means for personal growth, forward progress, and a pathway to meeting challenges we didn’t know we were capable of. This is not to say that adapting to change is easy. At times the process is uncomfortable, painful, and nerve-racking. But the beauty of change is that it keeps us on our toes, provides new opportunities to push ourselves further than we thought possible, and prove to ourselves that we are still capable of growth no matter where we are in life.

Besides, how boring would life be if every day was the same? No surprises, no speed bumps, no road blocks. What would we talk about? How would we connect with others?

One of the main reasons to get comfortable with change is that the world around us is in constant flux. Things are being transformed, converted, altered, modified, repurposed, and revolutionized on a daily basis. Change is an inevitable process, and fighting it is an uphill battle that nobody can win, and trying to keep everything exactly the same, so that nothing is different is exhausting and unsustainable.

How we can reframe this concept if accepting change is difficult, is to try and see things from a different perspective. One way is to manage expectations of ourselves and of those around us. People are malleable, and when exposed to different experiences like life events, job transition, higher education, or a new skill/hobby they might be a little bit different than they were before. If we become comfortable with the idea that our environment and the people around us are constantly changing, then it’s not so jarring or unexpected when they do.

Learning to accept change is a work in progress. Sometimes we have to just breath deeply when we are exposed to events or life circumstances that make us uncomfortable knowing that the discomfort is often temporary. Meditation, journaling, exercise, and talking to others around us can help us better understand who we are, how we see the world, and put us in a frame of mind in which we can see things in ways we didn’t initially.

The holidays are here. For many, if not most, this means the season of gift giving. And with gift giving comes a unique opportunity to express ourselves. The motivations to our gift giving range from the purest altruism to the self-serving appreciation of a job well done and the way we give gifts is reflective of our personalities, sometimes even our gender. Typically, the more we care about someone, the more time we spend thinking and worrying about getting just the right gift, that perfect gift that will delight! Gift giving is a universal way of showing that we care and are appreciative. It also serves as a means of strengthening bonds.

Psychologist Karen Pine writes: “Gift giving is a social, cultural and economic experience; a material and social communication exchange that is inherent across human societies and instrumental in maintaining social relationships and expressing feelings.” (Psychology of Gift Exchange Mayet, & Pine).

Throughout many societies, the requirement to give may be ingrained as a religious, moral or social necessity. Our motives for giving can include obligation, a desire to give or an obligation to repay. Advertisers are especially good at creating a culture of gift giving, often guilting us into it with imagined reactions from our loved ones when they see that “perfect” gift.

And while it would be ideal that all gift giving was done with selfless intentions, that is not always the case. For some people, especially those who are nervous, anxious, or overly worried about how others see them, tensions are created in both giving and receiving a gift. However, most of the time, the giving of gifts are motivated by the altruistic intention of providing the recipient some joy and pleasure.

Gift giving may cause no little anxiety, as we want to make sure that the gifts we give reflect what we feel about the receiver. We don’t want there to be a disconnect between how the giver and receiver view the gift. The fear is that the reflection of the gift is a mirror or the relationship it represents. When misinterpretations do happen it can be uncomfortable, even embarrassing, for both giver and receiver. When the gift is much more or much less than was expected, negative feelings will accompany the exchange.

Gender plays a role in gifts we choose. While women tend to attach more meaning and sentimentality to gifts, men tend to be more practical and give functional gifts. Most women would not relish a vacuum cleaner as a gift, useful as it may be.

What many researchers have shown is that the giving of gifts provides the giver with as much satisfaction as the recipient by enabling the giver to experience a positive self-concept, to feel generous and valuable. In other words, it is better to give than to receive, and that if you want to be happy, you’re better off spending on others than on yourself.

According to researcher Elizabeth Dunn, Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness, (Science 319, 2008), “how people choose to spend their money is at least as important as how much money they make.” In this research, Dunn concludes “spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself.”

O. Henry may have summarized the ideal gift giving best in his story, The Gift of the Magi. It is a gift that is the personification of quality of quantity, the worth of thought over monetary expenditure. No one after all, can expect to always find the perfect gift. However, like in The Gift of the Magi, it is the thought that lies behind the gift that may cause the real delight.

Photo by: JD Hancock

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free, 24-hour hotline at 1.800.273.8255. If your issue is an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.