Random Acts of Kindness On the Rise in America?
It’s fair to say that our nation has seen in 2014 one of its most stressful, troubling years in recent history. That’s why it’s so important to turn our eyes from the darkness and look at the good things that have been happening.
I’m convinced that I’ve seen, at least in my local area, an increase in random acts of kindness and basic courtesy from strangers. I’ve been the recipient of a few of these acts just in the last four weeks:
1. After I lost my wallet in a Target parking lot while shopping, someone stumbled upon it, DIDN’T steal it, DIDN’T use any of the cards, DIDN’T take the cash, DIDN’T steal my identity — or even steal the $25 IHOP gift card I had in there (hey, I like greasy spoon diners, okay?) — they brought it back into the Target store, went to the trouble of finding guest services, and then gave it to Lost & Found.
2. My family was separated from sitting together on a cross-country flight (and we have a toddler), but a stranger offered to help us by swapping seats. The stewardess also went out of her way and stepped in and coordinated everything smoothly so it would work out perfectly for my family.
3. While late to a flight earlier this year, I was stuck behind the world’s longest line to get through security at Los Angeles International Airport. At that point I knew I would miss my flight. But then a stranger at the front of the line noticed my anxiety and had me go ahead of them so that I wouldn’t miss my flight.
4. On several occasions this year in my local area, I’ve seen more people than usual go into stores, buy food, and bring it out to homeless men and women who are panhandling.
5. I witnessed somebody help a guy who had hit hard times and who was living in his car. His car desperately needed repair, and the person helped pay for the repairs.
6. A group of people in my community rallied together to do a rummage sale and raised funds for Mission Africa Inc., a highly rated humanitarian/mission organization in Ghana, Africa. Mission Africa Inc. has financed and overseen — without any government help — the construction of power lines and poles from the city limits of Accra, Ghana, out to a remote village in the bush, bringing electricity to a village for the first time in its history — a benefit that will transform their quality of life. I know because I went and saw the project myself.
7. And here are a few of the random acts of kindness that I witnessed or heard/read about this year:
-A 6-year-old cancer survivor donates 700 toys to sick kids (full story here)
-A friend of mine and his family lost their house and all of their possessions to black mold, and people all over the country who saw their story gave over $35,000 to him and his family to rebuild their lives
-a stranger noticed someone had their lights on in their car, which would drain the battery. The stranger went and got some supplies, and then left this note at the person’s car:
“I noticed you left your lights on,” the note said. “The battery will probably not have enough charge to start your vehicle. I left a blue extension cord on the fence and … a battery charger beside the fence in the cardboard box. If you know how to hook it up, use it to start your car.” (full story here)
-Strangers helped pay for a terminally ill man’s dream wedding (story here)
Although this didn’t happen in 2014, it’s such a powerful story that it merits a mention. An atheist who had sued the local government over a Nativity display had some serious medical problems. A Christian woman found out about it, and she rallied support in the community to raise all the funds for him and his family to cover medical expenses and food. The love and support had a profound impact on this man. You can read about his story here.
It feels good to see and hear about these things, and it feels good to do acts of kindness. According to this article, random acts of kindness have the following observed benefits in psychological experiments:
1. They distract us from our own problems and help us keep a sense of perspective
2. They help us feel grateful for what we have
3. They get us more socially engaged and involved
4. They improve our self esteem and feelings of competence
5. Memories of your act of kindness produce feelings of happiness that last for long after the act is completed
6. Positive acts reduce stress and negativity (such as anger and frustration)
Even if my belief that acts of kindness are on the rise this year is all in my head, one thing is indisputable: it is good for our health to be kind.