According to the homepage of this very website, one of the main goals of The Smile Project is “to promote random acts of kindness and spread happiness.” I wrote the goals and obviously both of these causes are very near to my heart. In fact, the former is what led to the creation of S.P.A.R.K. clubs.
The idea behind SPARK (Strengthening Positivity and Reinforcing Kindness) was to have groups of dedicated students and community members working together to make a difference in their worlds.
I’ve always like the idea of Random Acts of Kindness. As an 18-year-old college freshman without a car, I found volunteering at the soup kitchen was a half hour car ride I didn’t have access to. I couldn’t donate half of my income. In fact, as an 18-year-old college freshman, I wasn’t even working during my first year in classes. But I could smile at a stranger. I could hold the door open for a professor. And I could congratulate my best friend for reaching a goal.
You see, I was just one tiny person without a lot of resources. I didn’t have the time or money to change the world, so to speak. But I had the energy and passion to change one persons.
I think we’ve all been on the receiving end of kindness. Maybe it was something as simple as a kind text when we were having a bad day or maybe it was more profound. I won’t forget just last summer being blown away by an act of kindness. My boyfriend and I were leaving Kennywood, the local Pittsburgh amusement park, when we stopped in the parking lot to help a man and his family jump their car—a process that took maybe 10-15 minutes tops. We got to chatting and when it was time for us to head out, the car successfully running, he handed us money. We refused but he insisted and eventually won. We got back into the car, drove home, showered the murky water of the Pittsburgh Plunge off ourselves, and headed to a late dinner date in my hometown—courtesy of a man and his broken down car.
Experiencing that act of goodness wasn’t about the money. It wasn’t even about the fact that I ate delicious Mexican food after an already perfect day. It was about the fact that one man had seen good in us and had decided to pass it on.
Now he hadn’t changed the world in that act. I recognize that. But he had brightened the day, the week, the month of two young college kids. The act had prompted me to include the story in a “Happiness is” post that reached at least one hundred more people. He is the kind of man who gives hope to humanity and makes those cynical people shake their heads and think, “maybe this world isn’t so bad after all.”
There’s a comic strip I’ve seen floating around the internet by a website called Lunarbaboon where a man and his son are standing at the cross walk. After seeing a super hero battle in the sky above them (I want to live in that city) the son laments about not having powers of his own. That’s when the dad steps up in one of the greatest acts of cartoon parenting I’ve ever seen.
The dad compliments a third man, standing alone on the street looking rather down.
“Now look at his face,” the dad says to his little boy. The solo man smiles, presumably for the first time in a long time.
“We all have powers,” is his father’s final message.
I’ve always been drawn to this cartoon for a number of reasons. First it gives us an "A-plus" role model. Kudos to that Dad for finding a teachable moment. More importantly though, it reflects what many of us neglect to realize. In this cartoon scenario, giving a compliment to a stranger took no money, very little time, and even less effort.
Yet it changed someone’s world. It turned someone’s day around. And this kind of thing? Well it causes chain reactions. Say you compliment the man on the street. He’s suddenly a little bit happier, a little bit brighter. He nods and smiles at the busy woman bustling past. But that smile catches her glance and she smiles back. Suddenly, she feels a little more at ease. So she takes the time to hold the door for the older gentleman even though he doesn’t walk as fast and even though she’s already ten minutes late for a meeting. And the cycle spins on.
But despite all this perhaps the biggest thing that goes unrecognized about these acts of goodness is whose life it alters. There are three people effected by every good deed:
Those who witness it
Obviously, it feels good to be blessed by kindness. It feels even better to be that blessing to someone else. But perhaps above all else, it feels amazing to see it happening. It’s why websites that share positive content, like Upworthy, can exist. We as a society don’t want to believe in terror and fear. We want to live in love and charity. That’s why we share videos of soldiers surprising their families and stories of abused animals finding a caring forever home. Seeing goodness changes all of us, even if just for the moment it’s happening.
I’ve seen a lot of cynicism these past five or so years of running The Smile Project. Critics that say happiness isn’t worth exploring or that kindness can’t make a difference. There will always be someone who doesn’t believe in the cause. But even the most cynical person would still be dumbfounded if the person in front of him paid for his coffee one morning.
Because we’re human beings. Our hearts beat for love. And I know that something as simple as buying a coffee for a friend doesn’t seem world shattering. But put yourself in their shoes. It’s Thursday morning and you didn’t sleep very well. You missed your alarm and rushed to get ready and you totally thought that dress shirt was clean so now you’re debating whether the bigger issue is the smell or the wrinkles. But you finally make it to work, only slightly disheveled and with a little too much perfume to overcompensate for the shirt when your neighbor turns the corner: “hot chocolate (no whipped cream) and a banana nut muffin. Thought you could use a little boost for the day.”
Hasn’t your entire mindset just shifted? Hasn’t your entire being just sighed a bit of relief even reading that? It may just be a simple drink or a kind note or even a smile. But it could make someone’s day.
One last story:
During my sophomore year of college, about two days before Valentine’s Day (and with no romantic plans of my own) I turned to the people who made my life easier every single day. I thought about the janitor who cleaned our residence hall and the rest of custodial staff who had been doing an amazing job keeping the sidewalks clean despite a ruthless Western Pennsylvania winter. I thought of our food service who had to fight the roads each morning to be able to serve us food by breakfast.
What transpired in the next 48 hours was simply inspiring. I reached out to the various people in charge of the aforementioned staff and received every single name. I next invited several friends over and with crayons, construction paper, glue sticks, scissors, and markers in hands, we made personal Valentines for every single staff member at our college. Now it wasn’t much. It was just a small Valentine. But every single person that joined this anonymous love letter crusade went back to their studies feeling a little lighter and a little happier. I can’t speak for the recipients of the cards, but I’d like to think that it made their day a little better as well.
Now the reason I’ve taken so much time today ranting about kindness is twofold:
I want you to recognize its importance
I want you to act
But I want you to participate in purposeful, joint acts of goodness. I want you to rally your sports team around a campaign from DoSomething.org. I want you to get all your sorority sisters to write nice notes to hang around campus. I want you to host a party where everyone sits down and writes thank you letters to their parents, their teachers, their friends. I want you to buy someone a coffee.
To make this a little easier, I’ve attached a couple links:
This first one is from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website: Click me to make the world better!!
This next link is to The Smile Project’s RAK board on Pinterest. It’s kind of a shameless plug but also a great resource (over 197 pins and counting) for ways to make a difference in your community.
There is always a stranger out there in need of a little kindness. So regardless of whether your Valentine’s Day involves snuggling up to that special someone or hanging out with a group of friends, find some time to spread a little love to someone else and help kick off Random Acts of Kindness week in style.
Make sure to follow The Smile Project social media for updates on how I take on RAK Week in New York City.
P.S. Have a favorite kindness memory? Share in the comments below or reach out to us via social media. Oh and happy almost Valentine's Day!