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You have the power to light up the world!

Here's how random acts of kindness radiate goodness to you and others

Photo by Gina Vild
Source: Photo by Gina Vild

My friend’s father, John, died recently. As his wife and children were clearing his desk, they stumbled on a puzzle—a long, handwritten list of random names, some familiar, others not. It was evident by the variation in ink that the list was created long ago and had lengthened over time.

Curiously, many of the names had checkmarks next to them. John’s widow recognized some of the names—a few old friends, a new friend or two, a former secretary from long ago, John’s barber. The last name on the list was John’s two-month-old grandchild.

A conundrum.

But at the funeral, it became clear. As mourners turned up to bid farewell, John’s family learned that over many decades, John had been sending handwritten notes to those who had in some way touched his life. His notes said, “You’ve made a difference in my life,” and “thank you for your kindness to me.” Over many decades, John expressed gratitude for gifts both large and small, for a thoughtful word, an unexpected deed, a good haircut!

Thus, the list and the checkmarks.

The philosopher Seneca said, “We should give as we would receive: cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.”

Here's the benefit of not letting your goodness get caught up in sticky fingers: You have the power to light up the world.

Here’s how.

It is well known that random acts of kindness percolate into the lives of others and incentivize them to replicate the goodwill many times over. Research shows that the recipient of a kind deed is unconsciously motivated to pay it forward as many as five times.

Think about it, if one generous act on your part results in five additional generous acts paid forward, and those five each generate another five, your kindness has become, in fact, contagious. Your singular act is responsible for the world being a kinder, gentler place.

This yearning for kindness is an aching human need. A recent NBC poll on the state of kindness reported that 70 percent of those surveyed would rather have a kind manager than a 10 percent raise.

And there are clear health benefits. Research points to the expression of gratitude as a booster of good health. A study conducted by the University of Chicago found that those who routinely and enthusiastically say thank you report fewer headaches, fewer stomach issues, less chest pain, fewer muscle aches, and fewer appetite issues. Worth adding to your fitness regime?

Remember how it felt when someone last paid you an unexpected kindness? You felt warm, valued, happier, and inclined to share that good feeling with others. Is it any wonder that kindness generates good health?

Think back on random acts of kindness that made you feel good. Then jot down a few ideas for how you can convey your gratitude to others. Here, a few ideas to prod your thinking. These are suggestions for small acts that will enrich others in big ways -- and an added benefit is that the good feeling will boomerang right back at you.

  • Pay the toll for the car that follows you through a toll booth.
  • At Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts, pay for the coffee of the person in line behind you and leave before they can thank you.
  • Take the time to ask for the name of your server at a restaurant, and when you leave a tip, write "thank you" on the check using their name.
  • Ask for the name of a salesperson and the person who delivers your pizza -- and use it.
  • Surprise someone by letting them go ahead of you in the grocery line.
  • Thank the airline staff when exiting a plan for a safe flight.

If you want a bit of a prod, Lori Protika is an artist who created a gratitude kit, a card set designed to help you focus on gratitude for one month. For 30-consecutive days at the start of each day, you can follow John's example and think about those who has been a positive influence in your life. With one person in your mind each day, write a note on one of the cards and say "thank you." Then mail or hand-deliver the card. Just think of the good energy you are pushing out into the world.

As Protika writes, "The energy of gratitude is real. It grows and expands, attracting more and more good to it. Gratitude pulls you into the now and uplifts. Gratitude is the most beautiful prayer there is."

You've had the power all along.

Create a kinder, happier world. All you have to do is exercise a few random acts of kindness.

So, tell us, who’s on your list?