February 17 is National Random Acts of Kindness Day

National Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Day is devoted to just that: People doing random, unasked for gestures, big and small, to make the world a better, kinder place. 

There are different stories about how it began. In the U.S., the National Random Acts of Kindness Day was created in 1995 by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, a small nonprofit organization. They selected February 17 as the annual day to recognize and support more purposeful kindness

New Zealand also claims founding credit. RAK day has been an annual day of celebration of kindness there on September 1 for the past 15 years. Josh de Jong is said to have come up with it after being stuck in traffic and cut off by impatient drivers. He found himself wondering what it would be like if just one day a year people were reminded to be kind to a stranger. He talked to friends who talked to friends who wrote letters to government officials and media sites and the idea took off. 

It really matters little if the U.S. or New Zealand gave kindness its own day first. What matters is that the importance of kindness is recognized by millions of people as an essential value — especially during times that seem randomly unkind. The idea has spread. Many countries now set aside a special day for kindness. 

Positive psychologists who research such things have found that people who make doing kindness a purposeful part of their days feel better about themselves and others. Doing good makes people feel good. Why? The scientific answer is that kindness produces serotonin which generates feelings of calmness. Studies have also shown that being kind reduces pain, alleviates stress, reduces anxiety and depression, and lowers blood pressure. Practicing kindness gives people energy, promotes a positive self-esteem, and even helps us live longer. 

In addition to individual benefits, being kind to each other builds a sense of community. We don’t have to agree with each other 100% to be kind. In fact, real kindness happens when people are good to each other and respectful regardless of differences. That’s what unites people from neighborhoods to nations and makes everyone feel safe.

Ideally, every day is a day to spread a little sunshine in the world. But it’s only human to get so caught up in our busy lives and all the things we think we just have to do that we forget to take a moment or two to do a little extra something nice for ourselves and for others. RAK Day is intended to get us to take a moment to remember that doing good shouldn’t be an “extra” but a positive daily habit.

Kindness doesn’t require grand or expensive gestures (although those are nice too). Making a habit of being kind in many small ways has a positive effect for the doer and makes the world a better place. Small acts of kindness have been likened to a pebble thrown in the pond. They send out ripples of generosity and kindness that extend further than we may ever know.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Small acts of kindness:

  • Give your partner an extra hug or pat on the back when they least expect it.
  • Put a sticky note on your bathroom mirror, wishing family members a good day.
  • Put a love note in your kids’ lunch boxes or under their pillows.
  • Let someone who’s buying only a few items go ahead of you in the check-out line.
  • Open doors for others.
  • Help an elderly person load groceries into their car.
  • Let someone else have that parking space.
  • Wave someone through who has been trying to turn left against a long line of traffic.
  • Return your grocery cart to the store instead of leaving it in the parking lot.
  • Pay it forward at a fast food drive-through (pay the bill of a person behind you).
  • Buy an extra muffin with your morning coffee and surprise someone with it.
  • Bring a treat to your workplace lunchroom.
  • Write a thank you note to your kid’s teacher.
  • Surprise a coworker by offering to take something off their “to do list.”
  • Let your child off the hook from a chore as a present for RAK day.
  • Tip generously.
  • Be generous with compliments.
  • Be generous with “Thank you’s.” Thank waitstaff, the police officer who waves you through, the kid who bags your groceries.

These take a little more effort:

  • Write a letter of gratitude to someone who was a positive influence when you were growing up.
  • The next time you shop, fill a bag with personal items (soap, shaving cream, deodorant, feminine products). Take it to the local shelter to give to someone in need.
  • Reconnect with that friend you’ve let fade out of your life.
  • Write a letter forgiving someone.
  • Give a young couple you know a date night by volunteering to babysit.
  • Treat a very busy friend to lunch.
  • If you live in the snow belt: Shovel someone else’s walk or offer to clean off their car.
  • Clean out a closet and donate to your local hospice shop or Goodwill store.
  • Write to a soldier (Operation Gratitude: https://www.operationgratitude.com/express-your-thanks/write-letters/).
  • Donate blood — it only takes an hour.

These are less “random” and take more than a day. They extend the kindness of RAK Day to help build a kinder community:

  • Join a committee or board of a nonprofit organization.
  • Volunteer at your local hospital. (sick babies need holding; reception and the coffee shop is often run by volunteers) .
  • Volunteer for a few hours at the local soup kitchen or shelter.
  • Be a youth leader (Scouts, 4-H, church group).
  • Volunteer to read aloud to kids at your library or in a classroom.
  • Donate to a favorite charity.
  • Contribute to the fund that pays off school lunch debts as a local school.
  • Get involved with a charity event in your community.
  • Join a political campaign that promotes a kinder, gentler world.
  • Run for office on a platform of increasing kindness.

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