We celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Week every February to remind ourselves of the power that small acts of goodwill have on our community. But by their very definition, random acts of kindness are meant to be, well, random. Any and every day is a good day to build workplace gratitude by practicing random acts of kindness.
The phrase “random acts of kindness,” by the way, is believed to have been coined by the writer Anne Herbert in the early 1980s when she scribbled on a restaurant place mat, “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” The phrase uses the language of war (“senseless acts of violence”) in a call for the opposite, catching the listener off guard. It’s no wonder Herbert’s delightful turn of phrase is still with us!
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation was started in 1995 with the mission of spreading kindness and compassion with education and publicity campaigns. The website for this nonprofit organization is a fantastic resource of research literature on kindness, ideas for spreading kindness and ways to celebrate the people who practice kindness randomly.
5 Ways Kindness Builds Workplace Gratitude
Here are five reasons we’re still excited about random acts of kindness at any time of the year, and why it’s so meaningful to practice this philosophy to build workplace gratitude.
1. It breaks up routine.
So much of our daily life is a list of obligations, small and large — we have fully scheduled workdays, working out, yard work, taking the kids to soccer practice and feeding the family — and yet we often forget to make kindness one of our “obligations.” Even the smallest act of kindness, smiling at someone you rarely acknowledge, is an unexpected gesture with the huge power to make someone’s day. Random acts of kindness also draw us away from our technology for a minute. Researchers have found that technology can be a real empathy-killer. Offering a seat to a disabled person in a crowded room, for example, is only possible if we tear our eyes away from our smartphones long enough to notice a person in need.
2. It has awesome ROI.
Think about that example of smiling at someone unexpectedly. All this “costs” you is a twitch of your facial muscles, yet it has the power to spark a conversation that may lead to trading ideas and forging a partnership. Over time, acts of kindness build a culture of workplace gratitude that leads to high levels of performance. A team that shares a sense of appreciation will “maximize performance on a number of dimensions,” according to Harvard Business Review’s Christine Riordan.
3. It’s healthy.
A beaming smile is actually a positive indicator of longevity, as Ron Gutman discusses in his TED talk “The Hidden Power of Smiling.” Random acts of kindness don’t just benefit the ones you gift but also help your own mental health, as a Canadian study found.
4. It’s contagious.
Practicing random kindness has a domino effect, according to research done at Harvard and the University of California at San Diego: “One person’s generosity spreads first to three people and then to the nine people that those three people interact with in the future, and then to still other individuals in subsequent waves of the experiment.” Best of all, the good effect persists and feeds itself. As one researcher involved in the study said, “You don’t go back to being your ‘old selfish self.'” Even witnessing acts of kindness can set off waves of goodwill.
5. It’s teachable.
Compassion can be learned. Our willingness to help strangers is flexible and can be shaped by small changes in perception, according to a BBC News article about kindness research. Children are often taught about emotional intelligence at home — read this in-depth New York Times Magazine feature about how educators in schools are approaching the issue — but even adults who are set in their ways can be trained to be kinder. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison found compassion training to be the quickest and most effective way to motivate people to act in kind ways. Alterations in brain function were observed after just a total of seven hours of training, a “remarkable” turnaround, said Richard J. Davidson, the senior author of the article.
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has plenty of ideas at randomactsofkindness.org for building goodwill at work and in the community. You can even nominate an employee or coworker as a “RAKtivist” and get them public recognition for their good deeds.
What’s one way you can practice a random kindness in the next five minutes?
Don’t think too hard about it; just do it. Then be sure to take notice of the long-term impact it has on the other person or people it targets — and on you.
Learn More About Workplace Gratitude
Download gThankYou’s FREE eBook below for more research and tips on building a culture of workplace gratitude. You’ll learn the science behind why gratitude is so important and how nurturing kindness and gratitude in the workplace will build a happier, healthier, more productive and loyal workplace. Give it a try!
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