February 9 through 15 is Random Acts of Kindness Week. The Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) foundation, a non-profit, was established in 1995 to provide resources for individuals or groups interested in spreading kindness in their communities. RAK Week is an international celebration that takes place during the second full week of February each year.
The history of the event isn’t entirely clear. While there is some information on the foundation itself, the origin of the week-long event appears to be kept quiet by the organizers. This gives the week a sense of organic growth and allows anyone and everyone to participate as they feel comfortable.
At Holistic Pain we have written often about the benefits of kindness.
Giving, volunteering, and charity can all help you lead a healthier life. Most recently we discussed the urgent need for blood donations at the American Red Cross. You can use this week of performing random acts of kindness to donate blood or encourage others to do so.
RAK week can also help you prepare for another event later in the year, The International Day of Charity. This day was established by the United Nations to promote charitable giving throughout the world. You and your family can benefit from participating in this and other events that encourage giving to your community or cause that you are passionate about.
Gratitude is also a big part of kindness. At Thanksgiving we discussed gratitude, Family Health History Day, and encouraged everyone to practice being thankful all year long. The simple act of thanking someone who isn’t expecting it can be a powerful vehicle for kindness. And don’t forget that volunteering can improve your mood.
Of course, hand-in-hand with random acts of kindness is often the phrase “pay it forward.” Pay it Forward Day isn’t until April but there is no reason not to start offering these simple acts of kindness in conjunction with RAK week.
Did you know being kind can also lead to being healthier as well as happier?
In 2013, Time Magazine profiled a study by University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to determine the overall health effects of kindness. The study involved multiple members of the faculty, half of whom were assigned a meditation class that focused on kindness. During the study and after the class was completed, the participants were tested for their heart rate and the responsiveness of the vagus nerve, which regulates the way the body’s heartrate when breathing patterns change. The stronger this nerve, and higher the heart rate variability, the lower the risk of developing heart disease and other conditions.
The participants who were enrolled in the meditation class and practiced loving kindness had a much stronger vagus nerve than those who were not. While more research is necessary, the researchers believe that individuals who connect with others in the community and practice kindness will have improved function of this nerve and reduce their risk of debilitating conditions such as heart disease.
Of course, meditation to teach yourself kindness is different than practicing kindness towards others. However, multiple studies over the years have demonstrated that kindness helps us remain healthier overall. Among the benefits are:
- Reduction of stress: Being kind to others actually releases a chemical in the brain that can help keep you happy and calm. It can boost natural dopamine production which will give you what is referred to as a “helper’s high.”
- Increased heart health: Just like the study discussed above indicates, being kind to others helps keep your heart healthy and decreases your risk of developing a debilitating condition. Acts of kindness also cause your brain to release oxytocin, or the love hormone, which helps with cardiovascular health.
- Slows the aging process: Individuals who practice kindness, and receive the benefits of oxytocin, also benefit from slowing the effects of aging. Both free radicals and inflammation cause aging and this hormone can reduce their effects on the body.
- Improves relationships: Of course, being kind is one of the best things you can do to improve your relationships. Your spouse, children, friends, coworkers, and even people you see every day in service industry jobs can benefit from kindness and gratitude, and so will you. Being kind to others also inspires those around you to be kind. That is the kind of contagion we can encourage.
To learn more about these effects of being kind, read more about it here.
Random acts of kindness can really be anything. RAK suggests multiple ways you can participate including:
- Smile at one extra person
- Offer to eat lunch with someone new
- Say “I love you” to someone you care about
- Volunteer in your community
- Text someone a compliment or beautiful photo
- Mail a thank you card to someone
- Go through your closets and cupboards and donate extra items
- When in line at the coffee shop, offer to pay for someone else’s drink
However you choose to celebrate, make an effort to know that the people around you make the world a better place. Be kind to friends and strangers alike and see if we can’t spread a message of kindness around our communities and beyond.
We do understand that there are additional considerations for individuals dealing with the effects of chronic pain. If movement is a struggle, there are some ways you can modify these ideas to increase your comfort level. For example, pick up the phone and call someone you’ve haven’t spoken to in a while. If you have an in-home caregiver, give them a small token of your appreciation. If you can’t volunteer, donate money to a favorite charity. Simply promoting Random Acts of Kindness Week can also be a great way to spread the love.
How will you celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Week?
Image by Jennifer via Flickr