Practice a NON-Random Act of Kindness

How to be happier.
June 12 2009 6:19 AM

Practice a NON-Random Act of Kindness

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too ! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

A while back, I posted about Happiness Myth #7: Doing "random acts of kindness" brings happiness . I wasn’t arguing that acts of kindness wouldn’t make you happy, but only that those acts shouldn’t be random . Random, unpredictable kindness makes people puzzled and suspicious, but purposeful kindness is exhilarating. Non-random doesn't mean that you have to know the people involved; it just means that they have to understand the context of your behavior.

Advertisement

For example, I was talking about this myth on a radio show, and the host recounted that he’d once been stopped on the street by a large man who announced, "I’m giving away free hugs!" and hugged him. This hug, though free and a quite random act of kindness, was not appreciated.

On the other hand, a friend told me a wonderful story about a non-random act of kindness she’d performed. On April 15 a few years ago, she was standing in a post office crowded with people who needed to mail their tax returns. There was a huge line in front of the one machine that dispensed stamps.

When my friend’s turn finally came, instead of buying the minimum number of stamps, she bought $20 worth. Then she went along the line of people behind her, handing each person as many stamps as needed, until she ran out.

The people who got the free stamps were ecstatic – and even the people who didn’t get the free stamps were ecstatic, because the long, slow line got so much shorter so quickly. Everyone was surprised, excited, and laughing.

It makes me so happy to think about this moment! For $20, my friend transformed a miserable taxpaying visit to the post office into a moment of elevation – not just for herself, but for the strangers in line with her. And for me, too.

It reminds me of Henri-Frederic Amiel’s exhortation: "Life’s short and we never have enough time for the hearts of those who travel the way with us. O, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind."

As the Second Splendid Truth sets out:

One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself .

A non-random act of kindness is a great way to put Splendid Truth 2A into practice. Have you ever done (or received) a non-random act of kindness that made you very happy?

* For people who do a lot of work at home, like me, there's a great guest post by Wisebread 's Lynn Truong on Jonathan Fields's Awake at the Wheel about Cues to create a work/life balance.

* Join the Facebook Page to swap ideas and insights about happiness. Lots of fascinating comments there.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Dec. 19 2014 4:15 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? Staff writer Lily Hay Newman shares what stories intrigued her at the magazine this week.