I was flying to Salt Lake City, Utah recently and was amazed how something as simple as a napkin can put a smile on two people’s faces. Before I get to the napkin let me tell you about my pre-flight ritual. When I was younger a friend told me that his Dad who travels a lot for work, always stretches before boarding the plane. To me, this makes sense as you will sit in a tight space for many hours. As I always joke, you don’t want to run the risk of cramping up mid flight. The second thing I do is when I travel for work is I have a yogurt parfait if it’s an early morning flight. It’s delicious and safe enough not to risk an upset stomach. After my parfait, I had an extra unused napkin that I put into my pocket, primarily not to be wasteful and you never know when you may need it.
In the passenger boarding bridge, the tunnel that connects from the airport to the plane, there was a couple in front of me with a 2-year-old girl. Being a parent of two kids myself I can’t help but watch and smile at the innocence of a young child. Both parents were busy preparing to board the plane. The father was folding up the stroller and the mother was doing one last check on the diaper bag when the girl accidentally knocked over a reusable water bottle which fell into a side gutter of sorts that had some rusty water in it.
When the parents gathered the girl and the bottle, they noticed the brown water on the outside of the bottle. They were looking around for something to wipe it off with, but they had nothing. I then remembered my napkin! I offered it to the parents and they both smiled and each one said thank you. As I boarded the plane it was amazing to think how a simple random act of offering a napkin can bring a smile to someone’s face. Now I know this one act of kindness won’t change the world, but thousands of them surely will have an impact. Recall the experiment that I wrote about when someone compared the size of the smiles of baseball players on their cards from decades ago with how long the lived. The study had a very simple finding, the bigger the smile the longer the life.
I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish.”
Random Acts of Kindness
I have two new year’s resolutions which I don’t typically make. I feel that if something is important enough to make a resolution then you don’t have to wait until January 1st to start it, just do it now. My first is more of a joke, to grow a beard. I never had one before and the timing of it works out, January 1st is after the holidays and the extra facial hair will keep me warmer in the winter. And the best part, it’s already done. I’ve been rocking a beard since New Year’s Eve! The second resolution is to begin doing more random acts of kindness.
I heard somewhere that an easy way to make yourself happier is to make other people happy, which is intuitive enough. The less intuitive approach to happiness it to write about happy things. I learned about it from the book “The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything” by Neil Pasricha. One of the seven steps towards happiness he discusses is to write about a positive experience for 20 minutes. That’s a perfect fit for a blog. So here I am, starting what will hopefully be my new “Random Act of Kindness” blog series. Now the hard part, thinking of random acts.
What is a random act of kindness?
At first the idea seems easy, perform random acts of kindness, but what qualifies for one? Holding a door for someone seems too easy and I’m not rich enough to leave a waiter or waitress a thousand-dollar tip. So far I’ve learned that this is not as simple as I thought. For example, I wanted to take my kids to Dunkin Donuts and hand out 5 dollar gift cards with a nice message to random people, but that makes me feel uncomfortable. They will likely think I am up to something and that there is a catch. I still hope to do it, but I may have to work myself up to that.
Here’s one that I did a few days ago. I had a bunch of bus tickets that were going to expire, and I noticed that the gentlemen in front of me was paying cash to get on the morning bus. I didn’t think quick enough to give him a ticket, but I thought about how I should have the whole bus ride into New York City. Fortunately, we got off the same bus stop in the city and I had a second chance. I explained to him that my tickets were about to expire, and I handed him a ticket for the way home. I small gesture that didn’t cost me much, yet it put a smile on his face. And I also learned a lesson, that I may have to be a little quicker thinking when it comes to performing some random acts.
I am also realizing that giving something is not always needed for a random act of kindness, it can also be as simple as showing a genuine interest in someone. Just today I was at the grocery store and I asked the cashier how his day was going. He began to tell me about the homework that he had and I asked him what school he went to. We chatted for a few minutes and I could tell that he was happy that someone took the time to speak to him rather than just be concerned that he bagged their groceries properly. On a similar note I got to know one of my neighbors better as my daughter and I were going around selling girl scout cookies. We both enjoyed chatting for 10-15 minutes after our cookie sale was over. Perhaps all that is needed to qualify for an act of kindness is leaving the person with a smile on their face.
I started writing this post early in the morning and had to stop when my youngest child woke up to read him some books. I typed for about 30 minutes and I was genuinely happier the rest of the day. We’ll see how my experiment works of making myself and others happy, but so far, it’s a success. What will be even better is if I can influence a lot of people through this blog and cause others to perform random acts of kindness. How great will that be, people around the world putting smiles on each other’s faces. If we all took a little time each day to do something nice for others, the world will be a better place.