The other day my friend told me the most heartwarming story. She took her daughter out for breakfast, and when she asked for the bill, the waitress came back with a note:
Life is short. Enjoy your time together. This one’s on me.
The note wasn’t signed and when she looked around the diner, nobody seemed to even look twice at her.
Quite a story, right? Since she told it to me I’ve been thinking a lot about random acts of kindness. And I’ve been doing a bit of research. I’ve discovered something pretty shocking. While it’s no surprise that being on the receiving end of a random act of kindness feels good, it’s actually the GIVER who gains the most.
So much so that one study found that participating in these altruistic endeavors can actually decrease your risk of death!
A Movement is Born
This “random acts of kindness” movement started back in September of 1993. A Bakersfield College professor was looking for an assignment to give students in his People Skills for Business and Industry class.
After hearing a radio announcer report yet another random act of senseless violence, the professor had an inspiration. What would happen, he thought, if he changed one word?
Suddenly, he had his assignment. Within two weeks, he told his students, commit one random act of senseless kindness in the community.
And they did. One woman took her 8-year-old daughter to visit patients at a local hospital. Another student, who, after hearing his mother worry how she was going to pay the electric bill, withdrew the money he’d saved all summer and paid the bill himself. Another student took a stray dog home, cleaned him up and found the owner.
A reporter covered the assignment for a local newspaper and soon the story was picked up by the Associated Press, and it sent its own reporter to the scene. Within three weeks the story dominated the news, and the college was flooded with phone calls. The school almost had to shut down because the switchboard was so jammed.
The Helper’s High
When people help others, it makes them feel good. We get what researchers call a “helpers high,” or a profound sense of well-being and optimism associated with helping.
And the impact goes further than just the emotional. A growing body of evidence is proving that it can help the physical as well.
Get this: The Corporation for National Service, using health and volunteering data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Center for Disease Control, found that states with a high volunteer rate also had lower rates of heart disease.1
Another study, this one published in the Journal of Health Psychology, looked at over 2,000 adults. Researchers found that after adjusting for differences in socioeconomic status, prior health status, smoking, social support and physical activity, volunteerism decreased death rates by over 44 percent.
Pretty neat, huh?
It’s Good to be Good
Anger and negative emotions are bad for the body, so it makes sense that the opposite would hold true. One of the healthiest things you can do is to step back from self-preoccupation and self-worry. And there’s no easier way to do this than by focusing your attention on helping others.
This transformation seems to promote emotional and physical well-being and, odds are, will add years to your life.
So how can you jump on the giving bandwagon? Here are some random acts of kindness you can carry out:
- Leave a bouquet of flowers on a neighbor’s doorstep.
- Have your kids write a thank you card to drop off at your local police or fire station.
- Shovel a neighbor’s driveway. (It’s good exercise!)
- Put a lottery ticket underneath someone’s windshield wiper.
- Leave a note for a coworker that reads, “Have a nice day!”
- Open the phone book, pick a name, and send a “Be happy!” card anonymously.
- Organize a charity day at work and encourage employees to bring nonperishable food items to donate.
- Hold an umbrella for shoppers on the way to their cars on a rainy day.
- Pay a compliment to a stranger on the street.
- After you’re done reading a newspaper, offer it to someone else. It’s good for the environment as well.
- Volunteer to read to children at a local hospital.
- Stop by a nursing home, and ask the staff which resident hasn’t gotten a visit in awhile. Spend some time with him or her.
- Roll a neighbor’s garbage cans up to his house after the trash has been picked up.
- Give another driver your parking spot in a crowded lot.
- Let someone go in front of you on line at the food store – even if she has more groceries than you.
- Leave coupons you’re not using tucked under the product at the grocery store.
Do you have any ideas for random acts of kindness? Share them here!
Steve Sisskind, M.D.
Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.
As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.
Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?
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1. Grimm R, Spring K, Dietz N. The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research. Washington, DC: Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development; 2007.
2. Oman D, Thoresen CE, McMahon K. Volunteerism and mortality among the community-dwelling elderly. J Health Psychol. 1999;4(3):301-316. PMID: 22021599.