The past year was filled with grief, turmoil, political unrest, financial uncertainty, isolation and fear. Any one of these things is enough to drain even the most mentally resilient individuals. Combined however, they create the perfect storm for so many around the world who struggle with their mental health. Yet despite the darkness that inevitably creeped into our lives, it also served as a universal awakening. An evident realization that our time, while precious, is limited and that the maybe the best way to help heal from the trauma we suffered in 2020 is a collective effort to nurture kindness and camaraderie.
As we’re well aware, 2020 was a year where we all suffered loss in some form, whether it be a person, a job, financial security, our health or even something as simple as experiencing physical closeness with our loved ones. All of us, at one point or another as we adapted to life in the pandemic, lost something even more precious than the freedom of seeing a stranger’s unmasked smile: hope.
We’ve all heard of the golden rule: “treat others as you would like to be treated,” yet we may be surprised to discover the benefits of this mantra can extend far beyond simply being a good human. Research shows that taking action and carrying out simple gestures of kindness towards others can help reduce stress, anxiety, improve our overall emotional well-being and even our physical health. Not only are these benefits experienced by the recipient of the act, but it has been shown that the giver gains an even greater benefit by engaging in the action.
See, the thing about performing a random act of kindness is that it rarely ends after the act is completed. Good news is so often shared with friends and family, and, like a living thing, it reverberates, and grows each time the story is told. Occasionally, stories of good deeds can end up on the news, which for the audience can instill the same sense of emotional warmth, hope and encouragement as it did when it occurred. These acts can somehow become greater than the sum of its parts and helps inspire everyone to see the world in a slightly better light, which can make every day struggles just a little more bearable. This notion is also wholly supported by science, as studies show that an act of kindness can affect all who witness and experience it by triggering the following neurochemical effects: increasing serotonin (the chemical released by the brain which is tied to happiness), increasing oxytocin (the love hormone) and it has even been linked to increasing our overall life span. Random acts of kindness have also been proven to reduce blood pressure, anxiety, depression, stress and even physical pain.
This leads to the question: how do we start this journey towards a kinder, more communal self? Approaching a stranger, especially during these uncertain times, can seem daunting, yet random acts of kindness don’t have to elaborate or intricate. Acts of kindness can be very little or very big.
Here are a few ideas of ways you can show kindness:
- Pay for someone’s groceries or pay it forward: At a time like this, many families cannot afford to feed themselves, even a small relief like not having to worry about food for that week can go a long way. Something as small as paying for the order of the car behind you at a drive thru can encourage a chain reaction of paying it forward.
- Notes of Encouragement: Our delivery drivers and parcel carriers have certainly proved themselves as essential during this pandemic. Consider placing a gift basket of assorted drinks and snacks out front for them to choose from as they work. Or if adding snacks to your grocery list is not in your monthly budget, perhaps consider getting the kids involved for a fun arts and crafts project by making a “thank you” poster to leave on the front door to help show appreciation.
- No one likes chores: Showing kindness doesn’t always have to strain your wallet. Often the best gifts are those that involve effort and time. Offer to shovel a neighbor’s walkway, rake leaves or help collect groceries at the store for a high-risk friend or neighbor.
- Pay Attention: The best way to show kindness to strangers is to be aware. Opportunities to show support and help are all around us in our everyday lives, and it’s very easy to ignore. If you see a shopping cart in the middle of a parking spot, return it to the correct corral. Hold the door open for the person behind you. Be patient and kind with essential workers struggling to meet the increasing demands of an impatient population.
Therefore, as contradictory as it may sound, a sure way to recover much of what has been lost this past year is by giving. A uniting sense of community and the importance of selflessness in the face of adversity are a couple of the main takeaways from this past year. Make today the perfect time to get started with a random act of kindness in order to help increase our morale and that of others.