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February 16, 2021

How Doing Random Acts of Kindness can help us Cultivate Meaning, Purpose & Happiness.

 

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Random Acts of Kindness Day, which is February 17th in the northern hemisphere, was started in 1995 in the United States.

(The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is a nonprofit headquartered in Denver, Colorado).

But Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Day appeared on the other side of the planet in 2004 in New Zealand (which happens on September 1st there).

What does it say about society and humanity in general that we need a specific day to celebrate and remind us of something that should be innate to all of us?

It’s a good thing that RAK Day exists. It’s like a tap on the shoulder (or a kick in the rear) to remind us to be kind to our fellow beings; as the well-known Ram Dass quote goes, “We’re all just walking each other home.”

The definition of kindness according to the dictionary is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. So on this day (or really, any day), we should do a random act of kindness to bring a smile and a boost in happiness and well-being to someone else—whether someone you know or a total stranger.

Some examples of random acts of kindness would be:

>> Pay for the person behind you in the drive-through or coffee shop (aka pay-it-forward, because that usually encourages the person you paid for to do the same for the person behind them).

>> Let someone go ahead of you in line (or go back to total basics and courtesy and hold the door open for someone else).

>> Send a text to a friend or loved one, telling them how grateful you are for them.

>> Post sticky notes with inspirational or mood-boosting messages on them, and post them places (or if you want to be more eco-friendly, paint a rock with an uplifting message or word on it for people to find).

>> If you see someone struggling, help them! And I don’t necessarily mean struggle in the big capital S sense—big life-changing struggles. I’m talking, if you see someone struggling with heavy grocery bags on their way to their car, maybe offer to carry one.

>> And finally, it could be something as simple as just smiling! (I know, a bit difficult at the moment with most people wearing masks when out and about, but if you can, smile at other people). You’ll most likely give that other person a boost of well-being.

Recently, I took a course in Positive Psychology, which is the science of well-being and human flourishing, and a few central aspects of it are finding meaning and purpose, cultivating positive relationships with others, and positive emotions. Doing random (or even not-so-random) acts of kindness can cultivate meaning and purpose, positive relationships, and positive emotions.

Positive emotions, according to Positive Psychology, are:

>> Joy—a feeling of excitement and feeling uplifted

>> Serenity—a feeling of calm and peace when you feel safe and comfortable

>> Gratitude—being grateful for things big and small in your life

>> Interest—having an interest in something gives you focus and a purpose (if maybe only temporarily)

>> Hope—the belief things can be better when things are difficult (or as the Emily Dickinson poem so eloquently stated: “Hope” is the thing with feathers—That perches in the soul—And sings the tune without the words—And never stops—at all)

>> Pride—self-explanatory—being proud of something

>> Amusement—humour and amusement are uplifting and often have a social element to them

>> Inspiration—when we feel and recognize the best of what humans and the natural world have to offer

>> Awe—when you feel part of something larger than yourself, whether it is awe of the natural world or awe of your fellow human beings. Awe makes you feel small—not in a negative way, but in a way that makes you go, whoa.

>> Love—which includes all the positive emotions and in the context of a close relationship.

So all the above 10 positive emotions—joy, serenity, gratitude, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love can be invoked by doing some simple (or maybe not-so-simple, your choice) random acts of kindness.

Another emphasis in Positive Psychology is on building our personal character strengths. Character strengths are things we are naturally good at (but not the same as talent), and they fall under six virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, temperance, humanity, and transcendence.

Putting our signature strengths into action can bring meaning and purpose into our lives. And finding meaning and purpose in our lives can lead to happiness, which is really a by-product of finding something meaningful and purposeful to do with our time on Earth, and it can be increased by being flexible and open-minded—basically, rolling with the punches and going with the flow.

There are strengths in each of the virtue categories that can be kindled by doing acts of kindness (random or otherwise).

Some of the strengths of wisdom are creativity and perspective. You can use creativity to come up with your kindness act—something fun and unique. And depending on what the RAK is, it could give you a different perspective on something.

One of the strengths of courage is zest (among other things)—as in a zest for life. Doing a random act of kindness could give you some zest and increase or spark a passion in something.

Within strengths of humanity are kindness and love. Obviously, you’re going to use these traits in doing your random act of kindness; otherwise, it wouldn’t be an act of kindness!

Under the strengths of justice, there’s fairness and teamwork. Maybe you’ll recruit someone else to help carry out your random act of kindness and, therefore, use teamwork (and fairness will possibly slot in somewhere too).

Strengths of temperance include humility (being humble) and prudence, which are using discretion, avoiding risks, and knowing when it’s best to act. Doing random acts of kindness probably requires some level of humility, as well as prudence, for them to have some impact.

And lastly, there’s transcendence, under which the strengths of appreciation of beauty and excellence and gratitude fall. If you’re grateful for someone in your life, doing a random act of kindness is a great way to show them that you are.

And depending on what the act of kindness is, it may cause you to appreciate the beauty and excellence that is available to be witnessed all around us, if only we take the time to notice.

What acts of kindness are you going to do on February 17th (or beyond)?

After you do your act, take a moment to notice how you feel, and see if it has promoted any of the positive emotions listed above.

~

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