On August 18 2011, partly in response to the recent riots which had just swept through the U.K (remember that?), partly from feeling overwhelmed with the constant news of war, climate change, human and animals suffering etc., feeling helpless and blue, in this mood I went into my local post office to buy some stamps.
In front of me was a man, I overheard him say he didn’t have enough money for his stamp, he had thought his document was freepost. I offered to pay it for him; it was about 50p, no big deal. He said thank you and went on his way. It was a small and fairly mundane exchange with a stranger, but that small interaction changed my life forever.
I realised giving that man 50p had cheered me up. It wasn’t much, but it was something. So in a reckless moment, I decided to try an experiment. I thought I’d try and replicate what had just happened in the post office by trying to do something kind for a stranger every single day for a year. To see what would happen. To give me something to try instead of despairing at the news.
So I did exactly that. In that first year of kindness I got up to all sorts including dog walking, cat sitting, shopping and suitcase carrying, gardening, and washing up. I sang happy birthday on the phone to people I had never met, made banners during the London Marathon for 25 strangers who were running, gave away possessions, money, time; I met so many people and had a massive amount of fun.
I kept a record of what I was doing in a blog, in it I told the small daily stories of that first year of kindness, and very soon other people began to tell me theirs. People made suggestions of what I could try the next day. Others nominated their friends and recipients of a card or hand made gift through the post. Some of the strangers I met whilst doing this remain friends to this day. What I began to see and read was a more hopeful kind of story than the one I had been seeing on the news.
Once the year was up (366 days, as it covered a leap year), having experienced the most uplifting, intense and inspiring time of my life, everything had changed for me, for the better. I was no longer sad. I was optimistic, inspired and felt more connected to the world.
I’ve grown accustomed to people asking what I did that year and telling them the stories. I less often get asked what I got back - and even though it may be a cliché, what I got back was a lot more.
The biggest benefit of committing to daily acts of kindness is that any fears you have about approaching strangers quickly disappear. People start to tell you their stories of kindnesses given, received and witnessed. It turns out the world is full of human beings committing acts of kindness, selflessness, courage, sacrifice, at every single moment, all over the world. You start to notice that. You feel happier (you get both the pleasure of doing something kind yourself and the pleasure of finding out that the world isn’t such a bad place after all).
Committing to kindness chased my blues away and made me feel more resilient and optimistic, even on those days when the news is unbearable I remind myself that the best response is to do something kind for someone at the earliest opportunity. It’s a kind of magic, in that it cheers you up and empowers you.
The man who accepted that bit of money in the post office back in 2011 did me such a favour by starting me off on a journey, which has transformed my outlook and my life. He probably has no idea what a positive effect he had on me by accepting that 50p, which goes to show that the smallest interaction between people can create huge repercussions. Every single thing you do and say and write and post has the potential to change someone’s life, which is both a responsibility and an amazing, exciting opportunity.
I sincerely believe that this is how we can change the world for the better, by committing to small acts of kindness and compassion in every aspect of our lives and wherever possible, and I learnt this from a stranger in a post office in Deptford who I never got the chance to thank.
Bernadette’s book for adults on kindness is published by Orion. It’s called The Little Book of Kindness and is available here.
You can join her on twitter @betterussell or at www.bernadetterussell.com
Everyone hates January. The post-Christmas comedown hits us hard, especially with 2017 being such a tough year. Kindness 31 is our antidote to that. Every day we’ll share a good news story about someone (or a group of people) and their act of kindness or how they helped others. If you want to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively if you’d like to nominate someone to be featured, fill in this form.