When I think about the Monday nights in the summer of 2014, my insides soar. Each Monday was spent doing a different random act of kindness around New York City. On two of the evenings, a group from my church and I gave out free balloons to about a hundred people we encountered. The biggest carefree-attitude-causer ever is carrying more balloons than you can physically hold. Giving that feeling away to others string by string only increases the delight.
While planning this weekly kindness group I came across proverb 21:21 from the Bible. One version says, "Whoever goes hunting for what is right and kind finds life itself -- glorious life!" I didn't admit it or even really know it at the time, but I needed a life like the proverb promised I would find if I pursued kindness. My Monday nights before last summer were a blur of dinner, appointments, workouts, subway rides, and social media. I believe the mundane can be meaningful, but before the random acts of kindness group, my life was only blissfully ordinary some of the time. Much of the time, I was bored and lonely. It wasn't because I didn't have things to do or didn't have people around. It just felt like my daily life lacked meaning, and my relationships didn't have the depth I hoped for.
As down as I felt some days, I knew there was more out there for me and for all of us. I would say these little prayers for inspiration on what to do. I got this sense that changing my solitude and discontent would involve doing something for others, however small that would be. One by one I would hear the Holy Spirit's voice. Compliment that woman. Bring a pot of chili to work today. Every time I listened to these little God ideas, I felt a surge of joy from reaching out in newfound ways.
Personal satisfaction and serving others does go hand-in-hand. The general hopelessness about relationships and life I previously felt was like a sickness in my soul. Doing random acts of kindness is a giddy remedy I would recommend to anyone for these reasons:
1. Kindness offers one of life's greatest adventures.
If your social life lacks the meaning and excitement you crave, get a group of people together and do an over-the-top act of kindness. Plan something extravagant for the people in your life or city. Remember that in order for anything to become an adventure, it has to involve a risk and sacrifice. By doing random acts of kindness, I risked what people thought of me. You have no idea how people will respond to you when you approach them with an out-of-the blue gesture. I risked facing judgment and indifference for the chance to feel love and connection.
All adventures have doubt and discomfort. When the cooler full of free popsicles is too heavy to carry on the subway, do you stop what you are doing out of frustration? When the reality of Tuesday morning kicks in at 8 p.m. on Monday night, and you are still trying to find a knife to cut lemons with so you can make free lemonade for strangers, do you chalk this whole endeavor up to pure silliness and get back to your regularly-scheduled life scrolling through Instagam before bed ASAP? Not a chance. You press on, especially if you have people who are taking risks with you. The best adventures are lived with others.
In a previous life, I could check out whenever I wanted to stay in control. That's not possible during a random act of kindness. You are there to engage with people as meaningfully as possible. You are not able to act nonchalant when you are trying to explain to a passing jogger in Battery Park that you don't know them but you baked them a gluten-free muffin. Showing love means accepting that it might not be returned or even accepted. I used to do avoid doing things that might make me seem weird, but doing random acts of kindness taught me to embrace a moment of awkwardness in the name of making myself and others feel a little lighter; to do something unusual for the sake of adventure.
(Pictured above is my friend's dog, Cookie Smooth and one of the sweetest little boys out there)
2. If you want lighthearted joy in your life, you have to become it yourself.
If you are always up to something kind, you can feel that anticipatory flood of endorphins more often. Carry ribbon and fun sharpies in your purse. Pick up dozens of flowers on your way to work. Buy a bunch of brightly-colored gift bags at the discount store. Just stop to feel a burst of happiness however you can. Even scrolling through your bank statement can be fun. Rent. Straight face. Tuition. Sad face. Party City. Happy face. Also, as a general rule, if puppies and children show up to your weekly meetings, whatever group you're in is on the right path.
3. Eager hearts are all around.
My past is full of attempts to convince unwilling passengers on adventures. When a new friend and I were trying to figure out what to do one night, I texted her, "I know this sounds crazy but do you want to set up hot cider and pass it out to strangers?" I don't remember what she said exactly but it was something to the effect of, "UMMMM YES!!!!" Her enthusiasm signaled that she was beyond game. Not only was she totally down for a kindness adventure, she was flexible and inventive too. We realized we didn't have the supplies for hot cider so we opted to bake cookies instead. I thought about not sending that text because of how similar proposals didn't work out with other friends in the past, but I wanted to keep trying. My friend's eagerness ended up blessing me with restored belief that my people were out there. We didn't know it yet but that her one "yes" became the foundation for the summer community group, leading to so many more random acts of kindness memories together.
4. With generosity and authenticity comes fulfilling relationships.
I wanted to keep experiencing the thrill I felt on that first random acts of kindness outing, but it was months before I planned another one. I felt awkward for wanting something other than the norm when it came to what I did for fun. An accusing voice of insecurity rang in my head: Shouldn't I try to be like other urban 20-somethings with a social life of brunching and going to happy hour? How limiting that voice was. Our social lives are our own to fill with what matters to us. I relish good food and appreciate conversation, yet connecting over kindness was so much more fun for me. I loved coming up with the ideas and carrying it out with friends, knowing that we were capable of making someone's day together.
Two women from my church ultimately encouraged me to turn my passion for kindness into a community group, so I signed up to lead one simply called Random Acts of Kindness. I learned never to hesitate doing something you love. Running with what seems like a silly little idea is worth it because it can evolve powerfully. In December of 2013 myself and one other person baked about 100 cookies for residents in the Bronx. By December of 2014 we baked close to 1,000 cookies with 12 people for subway passengers in Times Square.
By moving forward with who I was and what I wanted to do, I got more than just willing passengers. I made friends with people I can live out my destiny with.
5. Rejection and resistance ultimately give kindness more strength.
One story of a rejected random act really touched me. A coworker had bought a hot coffee for a homeless man on a cold day who ended up dumping it out right in front of her. Nothing says thanks for restoring faith in humanity like a giant splat on the ground. Maybe he prefers tea? Her story made me laugh but also feel uncomfortable. Ugh. Was I encouraging people to do worthless things? I thought back to all the hundreds of New Yorkers who assumed we were selling something and said no thank you to what we wanted to give. The problem is that even the best intentions are overlooked, dismissed or even scoffed at. What I found beautiful was my coworker extending a hand, saying, "Here. This is for you." What I found inspiring was her sense of humor and her open mind. She could have made all sorts of assumptions about that man, and some of them might of been true in the moment, but she didn't see another person through the lens of bitterness. She saw him through hopeful eyes. What matters is that she gave him this choice: Will you consider allowing another human being to love you even through a cup of coffee? Even if we can't accept acts of kindness because perhaps we are hurting inside, we all still deserve the experience of being given the choice.
6. People are kind.
After handing a gift bag full of treats to a man in Central Park he explained that he felt like a stranger had just given him a present. I didn't want to point out that he was right and that did just happen. Along Fifth Avenue next to Central Park, he called boisterously to his buddy working in an ice cream truck across the street. "Yo! Let these girls order whatever they want because one kind act deserves another!" I of course got vanilla with rainbow sprinkles (because sprinkles are AMAZING). It was the happiest ice cream cup I've ever had. Immediate reciprocation was not expected, and I remember ordering sprinkles in a fit of laughter as if the only way to let out the electricity I felt inside was through the universal sound of joy.
7. There are few things more important than people and how we treat them.
Two elderly women ask you to take their picture holding balloons. A little girl beams so big and opens her eyes so wide when you hand her a flower. A young man backtracks his steps to offer a sincere thank you for writing the words in the inspirational card he just received. Their faces stay with you for a long time. You exchange beauty and love at the supernatural level and you are changed positively as a result. You feel things deeper. The music from the guys playing guitar in Washington Square Park sounds brighter. The appreciation for a coworker who let us borrow a table to set up a lemonade stand is deep. The shake-my-head notion turns to a muffled grin when you find out some teenage boys ended up using their free muffins to throw at people. We all make this life interesting and meaningful. We all matter. Every. Last. One. Of. Us.
8. Human beings are beautiful, including you.
The 20-something female on her way home from work with her head down. You see her. You identify with her. You don't know her or what her life is like but you really notice her and you have a note that says, "You are beautiful" on it, and when you give it to her, she says thank you in a surprised yet hushed tone that says she needed that. I needed that too. By reassuring her, I felt more secure too. The insecurity behind loneliness can dissolve when you lift someone else up.
9. When you give away your life, you find it.
This point is not from me. I plagiarized Jesus, who said this in Matthew 10:39. I wanted badly to hold onto my life, especially in moments where I was challenged. As I planned the group, I felt guilty for giving away items like balloons when some people needed housing, food, education and so much more. I feared my actions would seem frivolous considering the larger issues we face as a society. I work in journalism! Shouldn't I be devoting this energy where it can be better served based on the information I can gather? But there I was with free balloons feeling like an excited toddler. As the need in the world expands, it's easy to harden emotionally but that must be fought in addition to all the world's woes. I fought a hardened heart in the softest way I could imagine and I'm glad. The random acts of kindness gave me courage to do more. Not only did I find a life, but I'm learning to give it away every chance I get before it all passes us by, like a giant pile of balloons floating up to the sky.