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.

A podcast called “She’s All Fat” uses the tagline: “Body positivity, radical self-love, and chill vibes only.” In my opinion, this is the perfect way to describe both the podcast (hosted by two fabulous, hilarious, and brilliant self identified “fatties,” Sophie and April, who discuss the intersection of body positivity and current events) and the body positivity movement in general. Sophie and April champion radical, thoughtful, intersection body positivity, meaning it recognizes the many oppressions it fights against, and the many people it supports. Too often, body positivity is watered down, leaving behind those it was created for, which I discuss below.

This largely watered down (though still important—it’s complicated, I know) body positivity movement can be found thriving in the fashion industry and on Instagram, with over 4 million photos posted using the #bodypositivity or #BoPo hashtags, and brands giving up Photoshopped ads and hiring models of different sizes. One may think body positivity simply aims for the acceptance of all sized bodies, and/or greater representation of all sized bodies in ads and television roles. And there’s nothing wrong with that—in fact, it’s great. But that barely scratches the surface of what body positivity means, where it came from, and what it really strives for.

Body positivity grew out of activism in the late 1960s which specifically championed the rights of one particularly marginalized group—fat people. It was then known as the fat acceptance movement, and battled anti-fat discrimination and celebrated plus-size bodies. According to BitchMedia, in 1967 there was a “‘fat-in’ in New York City’s Central Park to ‘protest discrimination against [fat people].’ More than 500 people showed up…carrying banners that read ‘Fat Power’ and ‘Buddha Was Fat’ and wearing buttons that read ‘Take a Fat Girl to Dinner.’” The organizer told the New York Times, “People should be proud of being fat…We want to show we feel happy, not guilty. That’s why we’re here."

A year later, Lew Louderback published an article in the Saturday Evening Post called “More People Should Be Fat.” Two years after that, he published Fat Power: Whatever You Weigh Is Right, “one of the first books that directly challenged the diet industry’s toehold on women, and pushed to upend and dismantle fat-phobic systems.” After that, fat acceptance quickly became an organized activist movement. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was founded in 1969, and has been fighting against size discrimination ever since.

According to Fusion, “One of the core principles of NAAFA, and fat activism more broadly, is that most of the ideas we promote about fatness and health are just plain wrong. Instead of blindly treating fatness as an indicator of poor health, fat activists argue for a Health At Every Size model. Under this framework, it’s not whether you’re fat or what shape your body is that matters—everyone is encouraged to engage in healthy lifestyles and eating habits, and vital signs like blood pressure and cholesterol and general wellness are treated as more important measures of health than weight or BMI.”

While fat activism and anti-size discrimination are very important, they tend to be missing from the mainstream (read: watered down) body positive narrative, which is unfortunate. The original radical goals of fat activism pushed for an understanding of the diet and beauty industries, and the oppression they subject (mostly) women to, resulting in widespread low self esteem and unrealistic expectations. The activists wanted people to understand the oppression and even trauma they’re often put through—bullying, eating disorders, low self esteem—which are largely caused by and for the diet and beauty industries. They also wanted concrete policy changes to support—or at the very least, not harm—fat people. At the time (and still today) fat people were being discriminated against in the workplace, in medical spaces and by medical professionals, and being unfairly judged and chastised by society simply because of their size. Most of the people chastising them knew nothing of their actual health, they were simply assuming and projecting their beliefs and unsolicited advice onto people because of their waistline. Radical fat activists in this movement and part of the Fat Underground, a radical offshoot of NAAFA, followed radical feminist therapy, a belief that oppression causes mental distress. Additionally, they believed fat-phobia was created by the diet industry to line their own pockets. Over the last 30 years, fat activism has begun to blossom in academia through the burgeoning field of Fat Studies.

BitchMedia writes that “as fashion becomes more body positive, the push to make other institutions—including media, law, schools, and housing—more inclusive of people whose bodies have been marginalized has been sidelined. As legislators pass ‘bathroom bills’ that target trans and gender nonconforming people, airlines make it difficult for plus-size people to travel, and the Department of Education dismantles protections for people with disabilities, body positivity has morphed to singularly focus on fashion, empowerment, and selling products.” However, the people who created the fat acceptance movement are now being largely omitted by the body positivity movement, its modern predecessor. BitchMedia explains: “[Body positivity is] a complete departure from the radical politics of fat acceptance, the movement that birthed body positivity. In the age of #bodypositivity, what are the aims of the current movement, who gets centered and celebrated, and what bodies are considered ‘good bodies?’” In other words, “Body positivity was supposed to be one tenet of fat acceptance, a means of empowering ourselves and affirming our relationship with our bodies. It wasn’t meant to overtake the radical roots of the original movement.”

Though it certainly strays from its original intentions in many ways, body positivity is still very important as a tool of empowerment and self acceptance. It helps people of all genders embrace their bodies for what they are, and accept that the beauty and body standards put forth by diet industries are almost entirely fabricated and unrealistic. Body positivity puts the power back into people’s hands—literally, by typing a simple hashtag on Instagram one can be part of the body positivity community and find others who identify as such. In this way, by people engaging on social media and in the outside world, body positivity and fat acceptance can keep reaching new people, and we can collectively rethink what we’ve been told about our bodies.

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.

Winter is among us. Wind, rain, snow, hail, freezing temperatures, black ice … it’s no wonder staying inside all bundled up is so enticing. When that continues for four months straight though, and you’re on the 6th season of Grey’s Anatomy (you started the show about four days ago) something isn’t right. You become lethargic, impatient, depressed, unmotivated, and withdrawn. You may even crave carbohydrates and find yourself sleeping at odd hours all day (Kelby, 2016). This is when you know you’ve been hit with the mental virus - cabin fever has kicked in.

This state of mental unrest is characterized by symptoms of irritability and listlessness as a result of confinement for long periods of time (Merriam-Webster). A study done in 1984 on The Meaning of “Cabin Fever” aimed to see what this term meant to an average Minnesotan (Rosenwald, 2016). The majority of participants reported “feelings of dissatisfaction at home, restlessness, boredom, irritability, and needing to break routine” (Rosenblatt, et al. 1984).

From these definitions, it is no surprise that cabin fever is most exclusively a side effect of the winter months, especially in areas of extreme weather conditions where going outside is sometimes not an option.

Even though weather is a huge component, it is not the sole contributor. Winter has become synonymous with the holiday season. Children are out of school for a few weeks, many adults take vacation time, and homes begin to fill up. The weather may keep people inside, but so may family obligations. Plus, if you are out of school and out of work, your days are suddenly wide open. Add all that to the typical winter staples such as cozy fireplaces, gingerbread houses, hot cocoa, anything fuzzy and warm, and you’ll notice it all leads to staying inside, even if you live in the warmest areas.

So wherever you are, the winter months will always bring the natural temptation to become a sloth. It’s amazing how much doing nothing can lead to so many negative somethings. But never fear - there are remedies!

Interestingly, recognizing the concept of “cabin fever” in itself can be helpful in connecting the dots and acknowledging what is going on. Once you realize you’re in this rut, it can be much easier to get yourself out of it (Rosenblatt, et al. 1984).

Additionally, here are four categories of solutions that may help you reduce the fever:

Activity

Cabin fever is defined by its cause of confinement. Being confined and isolated from the outside world limits one’s activity level. But we are not sloths we are humans. We need stimulation. Getting our hearts pumping and blood flowing increases our mood tenfold. Science has overwhelmingly proven the positive benefits of exercise. So if you can’t get outside or go to a gym, do a workout video, vacuum, or do some jumping jacks in your living

Self-help

If you can recognize your own cabin fever, you may be introspective enough to help yourself (Rosenblatt, et al. 1984). Examples may include disconnecting from television and social media, deep cleaning your house or room, reading a book, or playing a game. You know you best, so help yourself stimulate your brain by doing some of your favorite activities (Kelby, 2016).

Seek out company

Sometimes we are not the ones to help ourselves and we need outside assistance. You may not want any interaction, but you may need it. Invite your friends and family to make dinner together, play a board game, or even have a movie night. Anything that increases interaction with others helps you feel connected (Gielan, 2011). Making plans with friends and relatives provides purpose, stimulation, and a reason to put on real pants.

Alter your physical/mental scenery

Being stuck in the same environment with the perception of “no way out” is one of the most characteristic symptoms of cabin fever. A way to combat this is to find ways to change your physical and mental environment (Rosenblatt, et al. 1984). After you self-help by deep cleaning your space, move your furniture around to make a whole new room. The novelty of your area will reenergize you.

To change your mental scenery, goals are key. Plan an outing or a trip; make a weight-loss plan or a shopping list.  Scheduling exciting things to do and see for the future will give you something to look forward to so you don’t feel so stuck in the present (Gielan, 2011).

If you’re an active go-getter who can’t sit still and is at home mostly to sleep and shower, cabin fever will likely settle in fast. If you’re a natural hermit who has a date with Netflix and wine most nights, it might not kick in for a while; but don’t be fooled, cabin fever affects the entire spectrum of folks, regardless of who you are or where you live. The plus side is that by recognizing what is it, and why it happens, you can learn to reverse its affects by using some of the methods discussed above. It is not an easy task and will require some willpower to get off the couch. If you’re finding it difficult to shake the winter blues even with these tried and true techniques reviewed, just remember that wintertime doesn’t last forever. Soon enough, flowers will bloom and the sun will shine!

Works Cited

Gielan, M. (2011, March 07). Beating cabin fever. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/lights-camera-happiness/201103/beating-cabin-fever

Kelby, M. (2016, February 10). Cabin fever symptoms & solutions - pages 1-2. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from empowher.com,http://www.empowher.com/emotional-health/content/cabin-           fever-symptoms-solutions?page=0,1

Rosenblatt, P. C., Anderson, R. M., & Johnson, P. A. (1984). The meaning of “Cabin Fever.” The Journal of Social Psychology, 123(1), 43–53.doi:10.1080/00224545.1984.9924512

Rosenwald, M. S. (2016, January 25). Cabin fever is very, very real, and it has been studied. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2016/01/25/cabin-fever-is-very-very-real-and-it-has-been-   studied/?utm_term=.2c922b8662b8

All cultures are social creations. They can vary greatly from one area to another. Around the world, there are countless areas with different customs, traditions, family structures, and beliefs about how the world works. And many of them are quite different from what we are accustomed to in our Western culture.

One of the commonly agreed-upon differences between western and non-western culture is their degree of individualism. In the Western world, people are generally defined by their individual careers and accomplishments. Many people in Eastern cultures, however, are defined by their family and social connections above all else.

Eastern cultures are also more collective. They value doing things for others and not so much for themselves. For example, in Japan, known to be one of the world’s most collectivist cultures, it is more honorable to be doing something to help your family than to be doing something to benefit yourself.

Having had the experience of spending much of my childhood in the Eastern European country of Bulgaria, and the rest of my life in the United States, I can draw some conclusions of my own. I have noted several key differences between the Eastern and Western lifestyles.

People in Eastern cultures generally spend more time with their family and children. It is not uncommon to take three months of vacation time per year. It is also very common for all the generations of a family to live together. The older generations that may be at or near retirement look after the children while their parents go to work. Retirement homes and day care are not as common as common as they are in Western cultures. I was taken care of mostly by my grandparents, never by sitters. People also put more emphasis on getting to know all their neighbors and their communities.

As a result, people in eastern cultures seem less stressed in a lot of ways. They have a big social safety net. The less career-focused outlook has its upsides. Critics may point out that it doesn’t lead to a particularly productive economy, but it has the potential to leave more room for quality time with the important people in their lives, which makes them rich in a different way.

A lot of people living in Western cultures tend to have the problem of feeling isolated. They may be suspicious or negligent of their neighbors, and spend a lot of time at work or at a computer. In turn, they develop strong relationships with their coworkers, to which family sometimes has to take a second seat.

I believe there are a few concepts of non-Western cultures that we can learn from. First, try spending more time with your family and friends. This is not to say you should immediately drop your goals and move back into your parent’s basement! What we learn from non-Western families is that our value can be drawn from more than just our accomplishments and our individual work ethic. It can be drawn from our relationships as well. Putting more time into your relationships, either by  calling your parents, skyping with  a friend who lives far away, spending some time with young children you know, or catching up with people you haven’t seen in a concerted effort, can increase your happiness and your satisfaction in life

Another point we take from non-Western families is that it is also very helpful to take some time to recharge and recuperate. Instead of using one vacation day here and there, save up and use them for a long trip with close relations. Extended vacation time puts one in a better state of mind and will help you perform better when you have to get back to work. You can be far more productive and successful when rested and in a good mood!

photo by Gatanass

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.