Why kindness benefits everyone
Stepping in for a stranger, a best friend, or a coworker in their time of need may be a no-brainer for you, but it doesn't only benefit them; it can do wonders for you and for the universe. "It feels good to do something nice for someone. It boosts your self-esteem, it makes you feel like a better person, and it can help you overcome any negative feelings you are experiencing in the moment," says licensed clinical psychologist, Sarah Schewitz
, PsyD. "If you're feeling down, a surefire way to feel better immediately is to go do something nice and unexpected for someone else." Psychologist, author, and relationship expert, Dawn Michael, PhD, adds: "When you are kind, that energy goes a long way, as the person you were kind to will feel better about themselves and perhaps do something kind for another person. I see kindness as a positive energy that, when passed on down the line, creates more positive energy in the world." Here are some ways to be a force of good in the world today.
Do you live in a place where people are always doing random acts of kindness? Help us in our search for Nicest Place in America by nominating it today! If chosen, it will appear on an upcoming cover of Reader's Digest!
For your significant other
While you might be the first to send a funny meme or listen patiently when your bestie needs to vent, or you're always on call for a coworker working on a stressful project, you might not think of your significant other as someone who needs a random act of kindness. Dr. Michael says that simply acknowledging the benefit your partner adds to your life is an easy way to bring thoughtfulness into your relationship. "It can be a simple thank you to 'I really appreciate you when you do...', she explains. "Letting the person you love know that you notice them is a positive act of kindness." Does your partner really hate doing laundry, but does it to make sure your household is running smoothly? Or would they rather do anything but yard work? These are opportunities to be thoughtful in your couplehood. As psychologist Nikki Martinez, PsyD, LCPC, advises, "Do a chore that your partner hates without being asked to do so, and without the thought of being thanked for doing so. Do it simply because you know your partner hates it, and that doing it will be a welcome surprise." Here are some things to say to your partner every day to keep the love alive
For your circle of friends
Friendship is always a give and take—the trick is to know when to give. While you might be raking in extra cash one month, your treasured friend might be struggling to make ends meet. Or, while you're in a stable relationship, your friend may have been dumped—again. Martinez says stepping up when it's your turn to help out a pal is an act of kindness they'll likely never forget. "Send someone going through a tough time flowers," she suggests. "Drop them a note and let them know you are thinking of them and what you appreciate about them. While small, these meaningful gestures will surely be appreciated by the recipient." Or, if you're financially able, psychologist Yvonne Thomas
says to pick up a tab when times are tough for your friend, or volunteer to help them out when they're overwhelmed or need encouragement. "Paying for your friend's meal if he or he is struggling with money, becoming your friend's exercise buddy to help him or her lose weight, staying up late to talk to a friend in distress, babysitting for your friend so he or she can go out, complimenting your friend, etc., are all ways to show meaningful kindness. These actions can be impactful because they can strengthen the bonds of your friendships and make your friends feel truly cared for. Here are 24 little things you can do to be a true friend
For your coworkers
Like it or not, you probably spend more time with your coworkers than you do with anyone else in your life. (Let that sink in for a hot second.) These communities often become your place to vent, your source of mentorship and encouragement, and at times, your pool of lifelong friends. Putting in the extra effort to make their day or help them up the ladder as you climb it too can go a long way. "In your weekly meeting, take time to acknowledge something that a coworker did that may have flown under the radar, or that others might not have known this person had done for the group," Martinez says. "They will appreciate it, and perhaps others will start to notice ways in which they should appreciate this person on a regular basis." Another way to connect with your coworkers is through their tummies, according to Schewitz. Since you probably eat breakfast, lunch—and sadly, sometimes dinner—with these folks, you'll get to know their eating habits pretty quickly. "Bring your coworker a latte and bagel on a random morning, or bake cupcakes for a coworker's birthday. Everyone loves to feel special once in awhile," she says. Here are additional ways to build trust with your coworkers
At the grocery store
Letting someone who has fewer grocery items jump ahead of you in line, or extending the same courtesy to senior citizens or people who are physically limited can show that you are cognizant of and sensitive to the world around you, according to Thomas. "These gestures can be very impactful because people often are tunnel-visioned and in such a hurry in their own lives that they don't see the whole picture in the moment and miss these opportunities to act kindly without much, if any, cost to them." And if you're able to fork over some cash—and you can do it in a way that won't make someone feel bad about themselves or uncomfortable—consider giving the cashier an extra $5, $10, or $20 for the person's groceries behind you, especially if you see them pulling out food stamps. You truly never know what situation someone is in, and that one bill they didn't have to pay in full could change the course of their month or even their year. These stories about the kindness of strangers
will melt your heart.
We've all been there—you've got less than 20 minutes to get yourself to work and you're stuck in the slow lane watching someone take their sweet time getting off at your exit. Wouldn't it be great if that person pulled over so you could zoom past? Martinez says you can perform that service to others, getting out of the way when you notice someone driving frantically. "While this may just be their normal way of operating, they may genuinely have something they're rushing to, and will appreciate your noticing. Let someone cross in front of you, or wait to turn and let them cross the street," she says. "This gesture of kindness unfortunately always, pleasantly, catches people off guard, which unfortunately shows us how rarely it happens." These are the driving etiquette rules you've probably forgotten since Driver's Ed
For a public servant
From policemen and firemen to postal office carriers, and that guy who picks up your trash from the curb, there are so many professionals whose hard work often goes unnoticed. Why? We're so used to having them always present that we forget just how important it is to express our thanks for everything they do to keep us safe, informed, and happy. "Telling public servants something real and positive about how they directly helped you or our country can be very impactful since, too often, these people and what they do is undervalued," Thomas says. Or if you're feeling extra generous, consider picking up a dozen doughnuts and bringing it to your local fire department. Or write a thank-you note to your postman for always giving your pup a treat when he drops off the mail. Any token of gratitude can—and will—go a long way. This is the secret to writing a truly heartfelt thank-you note
For your neighbor
Whether you live somewhere like New York City or Los Angeles, where knowing your neighbors isn't always the norm, or on a cul de sac where everyone knows your name, having good neighbors is a blessing in itself. Showing you care and that you're paying attention can not only keep your home safe when you're away, but it can also make the energy in your community that much more vibrant and happy. "Do you have a neighbor who perhaps does not get around as well? Shovel their walk, rake their leaves, drop a simple gift and gesture on their steps, thanking them for being a wonderful neighbor. The gesture will be greatly appreciated, and it costs you virtually nothing to make them feel special and appreciated," Martinez suggests. And what about someone who is new to your 'hood? Thomas says bringing a bottle of vino, some flowers or freshly-baked (or ahem, bought) cookies or banana bread can speak volumes. The same goes with keeping a watchful eye on your neighbor's place as intently as you would your own. "Letting your neighbor know if you see any trouble related to their property is impactful because it demonstrates solidarity and genuine care for your neighbor's welfare," she says. These signs prove you're a great neighbor
For your fitness instructor or trainer
Your fitness trainer might not be your therapist or confidante, but they've witnessed you in some very compromising and difficult situations and inspired you to push through your own boundaries. Thanking your personal trainer or the fitness instructor at your favorite workout class will not only make their day, but help them remember why they signed up to encourage others to sweat it out. "Tell your fitness instructor/trainer what you really appreciate about him or her. Whether it is about what you've learned from him or her or how the physical activity has helped you," Thomas says. "These people frequently get told only what hasn't worked or how slow everything is—like losing weight, building muscle, getting toned and lean. It is very impactful to be acknowledged for the positive changes they are responsible for in your physical health and fitness." Schewitz adds that giving them a shoutout on social media isn't a bad idea, either: "Post a before-and-after photo of your progress on social media and thank your trainer publicly for their help. This will not only show your gratitude but also give their business a boost," she notes.
For your family
Of all the people you probably forget to give a little nudge of love to, your parents, your siblings, and your extended family fall close to the end of your list. It's not that you don't care about them—arguably, you care the most for them. But since they're a steadfast, dependable part of your life, you might not go the extra mile to make their life easier. Thomas says it's the little gestures for your family that make an impact: "Random acts of kindness for your family can include taking your young niece or nephew out so your sibling who just had a baby can sleep; babysitting family members' kids so your relatives can have a 'grown-up' date night out; visiting with an elderly relative in person if possible (or Skype/FaceTime) to talk about what his or her life was like and share memories and stories; giving a photo album or a CD of family photos or of a recent family event to the relatives who are involved or are being celebrated," she suggests. Or, for a sentimental twist—and to create a keepsake they'll keep for years—Schewitz suggests putting it into writing how much they mean to you. "Write them each a little note with a fond memory the two of you shared. 'Remember the time we laughed so hard, milk came out of our noses? Was just thinking about that and it made me smile so I wanted to share with you so you could smile too,'" she says.
Has someone changed your life with an act of kindness? If so, you might live in one of the Nicest Places in America. Help us find the absolute nicest one by nominating your place today! If chosen, it will appear on an upcoming cover of Reader's Digest!