Try it out: Random acts of kindness

Being greeted with a smile, having the door held open for you or having someone pick up your bill are all little things that can turn someone’s day around. Kindness can be taken in so many different forms, and almost nothing makes people feel better than a random act of kindness from a stranger.

That’s why for one week, I made a conscious decision to do nice things for other people. On my mission to perform random acts of kindness, I wasn’t sure how generous I should be. I started off by giving out spare change on Green Street, offering my seat on a crowded bus and giving away my left-over food on the Quad  — and found it didn’t take much to feel the effect.

“A lot of the research suggests that things that are intrinsically rewarding are what really makes us happy,” said Michael Kraus, assistant professor of psychology. “Fostering relationships, helping other people: this is all rewarding because doing good is something that we value.”

Krause said that a lot of literature exists on happiness and things that make people happy, such as the book “Happy Money” by Elizabeth Dunn and Mike Norton.

“There’s reason to believe, based on science, that giving makes you feel good, and maybe that’s the best reason to give,” he said.

I found the most rewarding acts were the ones that were more personal. After putting coins in meters for unseen recipients, I ventured over to the McDonald’s drive-thru and paid for the person’s meal in the car behind me. I was surprised when the McDonald’s drive-thru cashier was not phased by my request and said someone else had done it before. As I pulled up to the next window, I looked back and watched the reaction of the people behind me. Initial confusion was soon replaced with genuine glee as they were smiling, laughing and yelling “thank you” out their window. That is all I needed to feel good.

Krause explained that a study was done to demonstrate the effects giving had on happiness. The research, conducted by Dunn, Norton and Lara Aknin, explored the benefits of spending money on others versus yourself.

“If I give you $20 and say you can keep that money or spend it on someone else, and I call you and ask you what you did with it and how happy you are now, you would be happier if you spent it on someone else,” Krause said of the study.

Varshini Kumar, junior in Business, said she can relate to this study.

“During my senior year of high school, I did something called a ‘Happy Fund,’ where I spent $10 a month on someone else,” Kumar said. “I strayed away from being nice to my friends because that’s not what it’s about. There’s more impact in showing kindness to a complete stranger.”

Kumar is the president of a new RSO on campus called Random Acts of Kindness, a chapter of a nationwide organization. RAK, as the University’s chapter likes to call it, caters to people on campus and promotes kindness, which they believe in turn promotes happiness.

“We go to such a big school, and people forget about the small things sometimes,” Kumar said. “This serves as a reminder that any little act of kindness can make someone smile or make someone’s day.”

RAK aims to raise awareness for things like suicide rates in college and wants to counter this by being a fun movement that serves to brighten people’s days.

“I have a quote up in my room that says, ‘One day you’ll look back on all the little things and realize those were the big things,’ and I think that is really true,” Kumar said. “Someone let me cut them in line for Starbucks the other day, and it literally made my whole week. Things like that you remember. The person doing them might not think it is a big deal, but to the person on the receiving end, it might mean the world.”

Krause said that passing on kindness is a very real concept. If someone does something nice for you, you’re going to want to do something nice for someone else.

“The biggest thing that happens when you do something nice for another person is that (it) increases and builds trust between you and that person,” Krause said. “Trust is hugely important for society and relationships. If you don’t trust people at school, you won’t ask for help in times of need, (and) you’ll be cut off from other people. … It helps us not have to deal with things alone.”

Kumar said that the mission statement for the national Random Acts of Kindness Organization is to inspire others to pass on kindness, and she and Krause both agree that you don’t have to do grandiose gestures to positively affect others.

“As long as you see it as helping someone, you’re promoting the intrinsic value of the acts,” Krause said. “You’re doing something that’s helpful, and that’s rewarding because being helpful is moral, right (and) rewarding.”

Kumar said that the best way to promote kindness is by challenging ourselves to do it daily.

“Take the time to challenge yourself and do five nice things for people during the day and see how it changes your outlook on life,” Kumar said. “Sooner or later, the kindness challenge becomes your life.”

My week of doing random acts of kindness quickly turned into two weeks and now is something I make an effort to incorporate every day. I took a lot away from the experience. I realized that kindness and happiness go hand in hand. Doing little things to make other people happy will, in turn, make me happy.

It did not matter that the people I did nice things for had no clue who I was. What I realized is that doing good does not have to result in being thanked for your actions. It’s a selfless act. Putting a smile on someone else’s face is rewarding enough.

Saher is a junior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]