Random acts of kindness

The story goes that Marin County writer Anne Herbert played with the words of a much uglier phrase often heard on the nightly news — “random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty” — and changed them to “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” She wrote the phrase on a placemat in Sausalito in 1982 and later published a children’s book by the same name. (1)  

Another story has it that community college professor Chuck Wall heard the phrase “random acts of senseless violence” in 1993 and changed it to “random acts of senseless kindness.” He assigned his students at Bakersfield College to commit random acts of kindness and write about them. However the phrase came about, it has over the last few decades grown into a kindness movement. (2) National Random Acts of Kindness Day (mark your calendars!) is on February 17th every year.

The science backs the RAK’s

There are piles of research on how helping others improves our own well-being, health and longevity. It also buffers us from the effects of stress, according to Yale University researchers, who found that people who engaged in more helping behaviors during the day had fewer negative responses to stress. (3) Is anyone else doing cartwheels over this information? We can reduce our own feelings of stress simply by helping other people.

Another cool study had students watch videos of Mother Teresa doing her thing and found that the students’ saliva afterward showed increases in antibody salivary immunoglobulin A – the body’s first defense against pathogens that get into the mouth. Researchers suggested that dwelling on love and kindness could raise immune function. (4)

Finally, a university in Japan had students count their acts of kindness during the day for ten weeks. The results were no surprise — the biggest jumps in happiness and well-being occurred in those who performed more acts of kindness. (5)

What is a random act of kindness?

Let’s be specific about this thing, here — there is volunteerism, there is service, there are deliberate acts of kindness and there are random acts of kindness (RAK’s). RAK’s are different in that they are not planned out beforehand: they are unpremeditated and spontaneous. They arise from the needs perceived in the moment: a homeless person needing food, money or encouragement; a walking pile of boxes and a closed post office door; a harried DMV clerk that needs a smile and some kindness; a young family who could use your covering their dinner check.

Keep your eyes open today for opportunities to be kind to others. It will lift someone else’s burden and put a spring in your own step. See below for a few ideas.

  • Pay for someone’s meal or coffee
  • Let someone go in front of you at the grocery store
  • Surprise your server with a big tip
  • Pick up litter
  • Smile at those you meet today
  • Leave your gift card with leftover cash with the person behind you in line
  • Throw some coins in a parking meter to save someone a fine
  • Take a homeless person some lunch
  • Be especially kind and patient with someone who is having a bad day

More reading on RAK’s

Need inspiration? There is a website called randomactsofkindness.org. Watch videos, read stories, maybe shed a tear or two and get motivated!

The inspiring story of Chris Rosati and his desire to spread kindness

Be the spark — kindness ideas

102 random acts of kindness ideas


  1. Random act of kindness. Wikipedia. Accessed Oct 25, 2016. and Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty, published 1993, Amazon.com.
  2. Smith J. Random acts of kindness are public property. Los Angeles Times. April 25, 1994.
  3. Helping others dampens the effects of everyday stress. Association for Psychological Science website. Dec 14, 2015.
  4. McClelland DC and Kirshnit C. The effect of motivational arousal through films on salivary immunoglobulin A. Psychology and Health. 1988;2(1):31-52.
  5. Otake K, Shimai S, Tanaka-Matysumi J, Otsui K, Fredrickson B. Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention. J Happiness Stud. 2006;7(3):361-375.
Dana Vaughan

About Dana Vaughan

Dana completed a Master of Public Health (MPH) and a Master of Social Work (MSW) at San Diego State University, and has worked in family planning education, prenatal counseling, and child development. She loves her mountain bike, her husband, her kids, and her faith—although possibly not in that order.

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