The need to spread goodwill feels more vital than ever. After coping with a global pandemic for more than two years, followed by the horrific war in Ukraine, we could all use the boost that helping others brings. Whether you donate to assist those halfway across the world or discreetly pay for a cash-strapped shopper’s groceries in a store around the corner, small gestures can impact both the giver and the receiver.
While a study published in Health Psychology suggests that spending money on others reduces your blood pressure, opening your wallet isn’t the only way to engage in acts of kindness. But discovering how to make the best use of your time, resources, and talent to aid others can be challenging. Here are ways to increase your kindness quotient and find organizations that could benefit from your outpouring of support.
Recognize Different Ways to Show Kindness
There’s no one-size-fits-all path to altruism. Brenda Knight, publisher and author of Random Acts of Kindness, divides these acts into Random, Deliberate, and Practical.
- Random acts—paying for the person behind you in the drive-thru line or putting money in an expired meter before someone gets a ticket—are the gestures we hear about most often. Websites like Random Acts of Kindness and blog posts that include ideas for adults and children can jump-start your kindness quest.
- Deliberate acts are when companies or individuals donate all or a portion of the proceeds to specific causes. “There are so many needs in the world that you have to be thoughtful about finding a cause that matches your affinity,” says Knight. As a writer and publisher, she ties her deliberate acts of kindness to books.
- Practical acts include serving food at a homeless shelter or volunteering to feed the animals at a no-kill pet shelter. Sites like VolunteerMatch, JustServe, and Engage list volunteer openings in your area.
Kindness Is Good for You
Studies, including one published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, suggest that kindness and caring can reduce stress. Tara Cousineau, a staff psychologist at Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Service, and author of The Kindness Cure, recognizes that volunteering requires effort. It takes you out of your comfort zone, but it’s good for your mental health. “You get more out of giving than the person you’re giving to does, and it’s uplifting,” she says.
Kindness can also reduce pain, anxiety, and depression. Activities like offering to clean the trash from a schoolyard or walking a sick neighbor’s dog can make you feel better about yourself and force you to engage with those outside your friendship bubble. “The act of helping others is an easy prescription,” says Cousineau. “The research shows that when you volunteer an hour to two hours a week, over time, you’re engaged in that activity.” That spurs an upswell in positive emotions.
Make Kindness Part of Your Screen Time Routine
“There’s a lot of power in routines when we make kindness habitual and add it to our daily practices,” says Houston Kraft, cofounder of Character Strong and author of Deep Kindness. He follows a few steps to help him become kinder.
The first is sending a “This reminds me of you” message. Once a day, he clicks on Timehop to find pictures he took on that day, say four years ago. The app gathers old posts and photos from your photo gallery, Google Photos, Dropbox, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. After Kraft finds a memory he wants to share, he sends the image with a note that reads, “This was special or important to me,” or “I’m grateful for this because (insert reason).” You can share the memory on various social media services available on your mobile device, email it, or send a text.
In addition, he interacts on social media by practicing mindful scrolling. After every five posts, he leaves a comment or gives instructions about how to support someone. “I’m taking a bad habit and reframing it to incorporate something good,” he says.
You Have More to Offer Than You Think
Before you dismiss your skills as too specialized or, on the flip side, worthless, consider a few factors. A simple task like checking email can be daunting for a grandparent. Sharing your expertise with a senior on Elder Helpers gives you the opportunity to engage with others. Or, through Catchafire, you can volunteer virtually to help a nonprofit. Sharing the skills you consider typical could prove invaluable to others.
Uplifting Others Doesn’t Require a lot of Time
Kraft suggests making kindness more manageable by taking a day-to-day approach and implementing five-minute acts of kindness. Setting a timer can take the pressure off this short task.
The goal is to show your appreciation and move on. You could write, “I was just thinking about you,” or “Here are the reasons I was thinking about how you’ve been an inspiration in my life.” BeKind is an app that reminds you to do something nice and shares ideas to inspire you. As with any skill, the more messages you send, the easier they’ll be to compose.
Share Your Act of Generosity With Others
Cousineau encourages amplifying the positive because so much of our attention—an artifact of the way our brain is designed—is focused on the negative. “We have something in our attention network that scientists call the negativity bias,” she says. “We are inherently biased to focus on things that are potentially uncertain, dangerous, and unsafe.” She recommends pausing and focusing our attention on the things that are going well. Sharing a good deed could fill that need.
Although the tendency may be to keep your good deed to yourself, post about it. If you rake a neighbor’s leaves or drop off pizzas at the local fire station, announce it to others. By publicly disclosing your positive efforts, someone else will likely remember what you did and may follow suit. Rather than bragging, you’re modeling behavior others may not have considered or may have been afraid to pursue. Nobly: Acts of Kindness is an app that makes it easy to share acts of kindness that can inspire selflessness from others.
Whether you take a friend to a doctor’s appointment or ask a cashier how they’re doing, a gesture of any size can alter your day and that of someone else. So the next time you pull out your phone, send a quick text to a family member you saw last week, or share a photo with a friend you haven’t contacted in years. “Sometimes it’s the three-minute message you send to someone you admire, someone you know is struggling,” says Kraft. “Sometimes those are the most productive, impactful minutes of your day.”