A random act of kindness is a selfless act performed by someone who wishes to be of service to others without expectation of recognition or reward. Back in the early 1980s, writer Anne Herbert wrote "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty" on a place mat at a restaurant in Sausalito, California. The phrase was picked up and widely circulated. Nowadays, various print media, and TV and radio station run stories, and features on acts of kindness. BBC Radio launched the "One Million Acts of Kindness" campaign in 2008, and in 2006 the "Free Hugs Campaign" was launched on YouTube. There have been a number of books written on the subject, notably Pay It Forward, by Catherine Ryan Hyde, which was made into a popular movie. The concept of "paying it forward" has stuck in the public consciousness.
Thanks to the folks at Oprah.com and a blog called Lifehack, I have come up with a list of random acts of kindness. Since nobody has organized them into groups, I decided to do that. If a situation doesn't apply to you, just scroll down to find a situation that does.
I have been on the receiving end of a number of random acts of kindness, some done way, way before it became fashionable. As a poor undergraduate student living off-campus, I recall one day when I went to the grocery store with a limited amount of money, and I had to choose my items very carefully. I had forgotten to figure the tax, so when the cashier announced the total, I was 25 cents short. I picked up two items and tried to decide quickly which one to jettison. As you can imagine, I was terribly embarrassed, which didn't do anything to help clarify my thinking. Finally a long-haired hippie fellow behind me flipped a quarter on the counter so I could buy everything in my cart. "Here, Merry Christmas," he said, although it was not Christmas or even winter. I was so grateful, and I remember savoring that food.
Another act of kindness that I recall was when I was feeling especially sad and lonely as I ate in by myself in a local restaurant. I don't remember why this person had flowers, but as I stood up to leave, she gave me a rose, "just because."
A third act of kindness that has stuck with me happened at an Eckankar seminar years ago. I was eating dinner alone, when an older woman, who was also dining alone nearby, struck up a conversation with me and invited me to dine with her. I did, and we had a wonderful dinner conversation. At the end of the meal, she told me she wanted to pay for my meal because she was grateful for the company. She thought I'd been doing her a favor, but it was the other way around.
Without further ado, here is my list, with a couple of comments here and there. :-)
Things you can do at work:
If your store/company can't help a customer, recommend another store/company that can.
Say "good morning" to people in the elevator and along your route to your desk.
Bring your assistant some coffee.
Pay compliments to co-workers, and be sure to let their boss know, as well.
Bring a healthy treat to the office: pre-washed grapes cut into small bunches, small apples, servings of nuts in small individual snack bags, a veggie snack tray.
Offer to transfer a caller to another department, rather than making them dial a separate call.
Donate unused event tickets to someone who will use them.
Organize a "Charity Day" at work: have co-workers vote on a charity and work toward a goal. When the goal is met, donate to another charity.
Compliment your boss.
Offer to help a co-worker with a particularly large or pressing project.
Thank your employees periodically or bring in treats for the staff.
Offer to work late to finish a project.
Offer to work weekends or holidays.
Donate some sick days to a co-worker with a debilitating illness who is running out of paid sick leave, and encourage others to do the same.
Things you can do in a big city:
Put change in an expired parking meter
Help a mother carry a stroller up the subway stairs or hold a door open for her.
Things you an do in a small town:
Offer to babysit (for free) for a single parent or a young couple
Share fresh produce from your garden with neighbors or people who go to your church.
Things kids can do at school:
Study for a test with classmates - invite them to your house and serve snacks.
Pick up trash in your schoolyard, in the hallways, in the bathroom, and in your classroom.
Introduce yourself to a new classmate and invite him or her to play with you at recess.
Lend a classmate one of your extra pencils.
Let someone go in front of you in the lunch line.
Cheer on your school team.
Share your snack with someone who doesn't have one.
Sit next to someone new at lunch.
Write a positive note to a classmate.
Encourage someone who is sad or upset.
Start a kindness club in your class.
Ask before you borrow things, and don't forget to thank the person when you return it.
Tell your teacher, your coach, the custodian or the lunch servers how much you appreciate them.
Things kids can do for others:
(Parents, please suggest these to your kids!)
Collect canned food for a food bank.
Collect money for UNICEF at Halloween time.
Donate $1 - 10 to the charity of your choice once a month, or add to your parents' donation.
Donate your gently-used books and toys to other kids.
Organize a lemonade stand, used book stand, yard sale, or bake sale to raise funds for a charity.
Organize a teddy-bear drive for orphans.
Start a piggy bank just for charitable donations.
Take lost items to the "lost and found."
Offer to pet-sit or walk dogs for free.
Things kids can do at home:
(Parents, teach your kids to do these things at home or at Grandma's house.)
Pick up your toys and put them where they belong.
Clean up after yourself in the kitchen, bathroom, and family room.
Make your own bed and keep your room clean.
Cook a meal for your family. Develop a specialty, such as meatloaf, spaghetti, or pizza, and learn how to make dessert.
Make a card to thank your parents or caregivers for taking care of you.
Share your books, games and toys with others.
Call a grandparent, aunt or uncle.
Invite some friends or cousins to come and play at your house, or to stay overnight.
Offer to help wash or dry dishes, set and clear the table, do the laundry, vacuum the carpet, wash the car, clean the garage, take out the trash, or do yard work or gardening.
Things adults can do for kids:
(Note - you can do things for kids even if you don't have kids of your own.)
Write letters to grandchildren, nieces and nephews or even neighbor kids (with their parents' permission).
Offer to read to kids during school vacations or on Saturdays. You can work with a local library or just offer to read to kids in the neighborhood.
Offer to coach a sports team or lead a dance team.
Be a role model.
Take kids to a sporting event.
Play sports or go swimming with kids.
Things you can do for the environment:
Pick up trash in parks, at rest stops, or along the roadside, even if it isn't yours.
Use less plastic.
Recycle glass, plastic, tin cans, and paper items.
Ride your bike to work or school.
Plant trees, bushes, and flowers.
Take shorter showers.
Organize and participate in a car pool, and offer to do the driving once in a while.
Measure your carbon footprint and find out how you can reduce it.
Eliminate food waste at home.
Turn off lights in an unused room.
Conserve energy whenever and wherever possible.
Help create, maintain or restore a hiking trail.
Participate in the Adopt a Highway program.
Use cloth bags instead of paper or plastic.
Carry a re-usable water bottle.
Things you can do for animals:
Adopt a pet from a local animal shelter.
Volunteer to assist at an animal shelter, or make a donation toward food or medical treatment.
Leave food for animals after a snowfall.
Make a bird feeder.
Leave water out for animals on very hot days.
Things you can do for the elderly:
Help out with yard work. (mow/rake/shovel/weed)
Help take out the trash.
Fix a meal when you know they are not feeling well.
Offer to pick up mail/newspapers while they are in the hospital.
Offer to take care of pets while they are gone.
Offer to pick up groceries or do errands, especially in/before severe weather.
Offer to give them a lift to the store/post office, etc.
Offer to read a book to people whose eyesight is no longer good enough to read without strain.
If you teach piano, voice or instrumental music, (or if your child is taking lessons) consider having a recital or concert at a local home for the elderly.
Offer to do a musical program, read poetry, do skits, tell jokes, or give a talk at a local assisted living facility.
Organize a pickle party. (Elders often have such bland food.)
Find out which residents of a nursing home don't get many visitors and give them a visit.
Bring in trash cans or secure lawn furniture before a storm for elderly neighbors.
Help someone cross the street safely.
Things you can do for cancer patients:
Note - don't make general offers, forcing them to ask you for something that may be inconvenient for you. Instead, offer to do something specific, and keep your word when your offer is accepted.
Offer to give a back rub.
Give a gift certificate for a massage, facial, manicure, or other salon service. Some salons have special discounts for cancer patients.
Sew caps for patients who have lost hair and donate them to the local hospital or cancer care center. Call them first to see what they need or will accept. There are patterns for these online. A note here: This is WAY more useful than donating your locks because 1) very few cancer patients have enough money to buy a human hair wig, especially after their diagnosis, because even if their insurance is great, as mine was, they have likely had to spend a lot of money on co-pays for tests to determine their diagnosis, and 2) most people who go through chemotherapy are too blame sick to properly take care of a human hair wig.
Offer to run errands for them. This is also a biggie. There were times when I ran out of food and was too sick to go to the supermarket. A friend I called for help told me she would go to the market for me the following week. I didn't eat much that weekend.
Offer to do some housework. When I was recovering from chemo, it took me DAYS to vacuum my living room carpet, as I could only work for a few minutes at any one time. Fatigue is HUGE for these people. Please offer to do what you can.
Offer to cook meals.
Things you can do while shopping or doing errands:
Let someone else in line ahead of you at the supermarket, post office, or bank.
Buy a lottery ticket for a stranger.
Put your shopping cart back in place.
Fill out a customer satisfaction card or compliment card for a clerk, cashier, or other employee who goes out of their way to help you.
Notice the clerk, teller, or cashier's name tag and use their name when you thank them.
Offer change when the person in front of you comes up short.
Help someone load/unload their groceries.
Chat with sales clerks and cashiers.
Put things back in order on shelves and racks, and pick items up off the floor.
Things you can do while driving:
Stop and help someone change a flat tire, give them a jump-start, or help them get their vehicle out of the snowbank or the mud.
Let someone else use the parking spot you were hoping to get.
Pay the toll for the driver behind you.
Let another driver merge into your lane.
Let another driver come out of a driveway or side street in front of you when it is safe to do so..
In heavy traffic, keep space open so drivers from oncoming lanes can turn into a side street.
Offer to use your cell phone to call for help for a stranded motorist.
Carry a dog leash in your car and stop to rescue a runaway pet if you can.
If you a bus turning into a narrow street in the oncoming lane, stop well back from the intersection and give them space to make a wide turn.
If you are driving a friend to a bus stop and you can see they've missed their bus, drive a little father to get ahead of the bus, and let them off at the next corner.
Things you can do while traveling:
Hold the train door open for someone rushing to get in.
Give up your seat to someone who looks like they need it.
Leave a copy of an interesting book on the train or in the waiting area of an airport.
Buy some inexpensive souvenirs for friends, neighbors, or grandchildren.
Thank the bus or taxi driver.
Offer your seatmate a stick of gum.
Offer to give up your seat on an overbooked flight if you have no specific time to be at your destination. Flights are often overbooked in the summertime, and in hot weather, planes can take on less cargo, so they are apt to bump passengers.
If you're driving long-distance, carry a couple of extra rolls of toilet paper and add one to an empty roll at a rest-stop or park if necessary.
Things you can do at holiday time:
Offer a free photo session to families, if you are a professional or amateur photographer.
Organize a cookie/cake/pie exchange with a group of people.
Invite singles over for the holidays.
Things you can do while eating out:
Give a compliment about your waiter / waitress AND to his / her manager.
Leave a larger than usual tip.
Give your "doggie bag" to a homeless person. (Note - this works best in the big city.)
Pay for drinks/coffee at the next table.
Invite a person who is alone to dine with you.
Pay the tab for the person in the car behind you in a fast-food or fast-coffee line, or if someone has paid your tab, keep the chain of kindness going.
Things you can do for neighbors:
Offer to mow the lawn, rake the grass, shovel snow, cut hedges, weed the garden, or take care of their pet, especially if your neighbor is elderly or if they are ill or going on vacation.
Offer to clean a neighbor's house or do a heavy job such as putting on storm windows.
Offer to keep an eye on their property while they are out of town.
Things you can do for friends in need:
Help a friend pack for a move. You can wrap dishes in newspaper in the kitchen, wrap photos and framed art in bubble wrap, or pack books.
Offer to help them take stuff to the dump, the recycling station, or to Goodwill.
Offer to help with the move, itself, if you can.
When a friend moves, give her your favorite recipe or quote, and a picture of the two of you as a going-away gift.
Visit someone who is sick at home or in the hospital, and offer to do whatever they need help with.
Offer to buy them a tank of gas.
Give them a phone card.
Offer to provide transportation to and from an event or shopping area.
Offer to sew a prom dress or other item for someone for free.
Offer to accompany a friend to an event even if you are not particularly interested in it, especially if they cannot go, otherwise.
Make a wish come true
Help someone with a job search or offer to write them a recommendation or introduce them to someone.
Things you can do for friends, for no special reason:
Forgive a small debt and don't bring it up again.
Pass along a good book you've finished reading.
Volunteer to be the Designated Driver.
Bake someone a cake or some cookies.
Pick a bouquet of flowers from your garden for a friend or neighbor.
Take a friend to the movies or treat them to a meal, a cup of coffee, or a sweet treat.
Share your garden produce.
Things you can do to get back in touch:
Call or write a favorite teacher or coach to thank him/her for their positive influence on your life.
Write a letter to someone who made a difference in your life. Even if the person is gone or no longer living, write the letter anyway, and publish it online.
Find an old friend online and renew the friendship.
Things you can do online:
Return emails promptly.
Share inspirational quotes or photos in your status messages.
Share recipes and travel tips.
Share useful information.
Be respectful to others, even if you disagree with them.
Share a music playlist with friends.
Respond positively to status messages, posts on an email list, or blog posts.
Forward email coupons, if they can be transferred.
Things you can donate:
Each time you get a new item of clothing, retire a gently-used item and donate it to Goodwill, The Salvation Army, or a local women's shelter (women's and children's clothing are appreciated)
Donate gently used clothing when you switch out your winter and summer wardrobes.
Be aware of families that need clothing and household items after a house fire.
Donate blood if you are healthy.
Donate coats, caps, scarves and mittens to schools that have a high percentage of students from poor families - you can usually do this through the school social worker. Call the main office for information.
Donate your used vehicle - check with charities to see how this works.
Donate gently-used sports equipment.
Donate your time at a local charity.
Donate food items or money for victims of disasters - stick to established charities such as the Red Cross.
Things you can do for strangers:
Take the time to give directions to someone who is lost, even if you're in a hurry.
If you meet travelers who need to find the highway exit, offer to lead them there.
Say hello to someone you often see at the bus stop, at the train station, on the elevator or at the supermarket. Introduce yourself and start up a conversation.
Adopt a soldier serving overseas and send him/her letters and care packages.
Adopt a family.
Host an international exchange student in your home, whether or not you have kids of your own.
Wipe down and sanitize gym equipment after you have used it.
Leave some quarters at the laundromat.
Volunteer to help at an Indian reservation. Check to see what they need and what protocols they would like you to follow.
Things you can do to help the homeless:
Have a normal conversation with a homeless person.
Make blankets for the homeless or for people in orphanages and shelters. (HELP)
Offer to buy them a meal rather than just giving money.
Give them a gift card for coffee or a meal at a restaurant. (Note: do this rather than buying "suspended" coffee/meals, which can cause problems for restaurants or be misused).
Things you can do for members of your community:
Write a thank-you note to your local fire department or police department.
Thank your mail carrier and newspaper delivery person.
Volunteer at a community garden.
Volunteer for community charitable projects.
Help to build a house with Habitat for Humanity.
Volunteer for Special Olympics.
Clean graffiti off sidewalks, walls, and fences.
Prepare a meal for firefighters on duty.
Things parents can do for local schools:
Take a shift as the car-pool parent.
Offer to assist in a classroom, serve as hall monitor, or act as a crossing guard before and after school.
Offer to assist as a chaperon for a high school dance or a class field trip.
Things anyone can do for local schools
Offer to mentor an at-risk child or teenager.
Offer to teach a skill for an after-school program or to a class of children.
Offer to tutor kids who are struggling.
Offer to assist a classroom teacher.
Offer your help with school functions such as bake sales, community carnivals, etc.
Save Box Tops for Education from various household products and donate them to the school of your choice.
Offer to assist in a classroom, serve as hall monitor, or act as a crossing guard before and after school.
Donate office supplies such as paper, three-ring binders, pens, pencils, rolls of cash register tape, cellophane tape, staples, etc.
Say "please" and "thank you"—and really mean it.
Don't interrupt people.
Smile at people.
Listen with the intent to understand, and not the intent to reply
Apologize when you are wrong, and if necessary, make things right.
If you ask someone how they are, really listen to the answer, and ask follow-up questions, if appropriate.
Be as kind as possible to people you don't like: you never know what they may be going through.
Try to say something pleasant to someone each day.
Be generous with heartfelt compliments and praise for a job well done.
Try to eliminate complaints.
Make people laugh.
Send handmade cards and handwritten thank you notes.
Practice an attitude of gratitude. Thank people regularly.
Always try to return lost items to their rightful owner.
Be on time.
Return phone calls promptly.
Sign up to be an organ donor.
Whenever you can, do good deeds anonymously.