Random acts of kindness: an update

On Christmas day last year I blogged not about health, as such, but about random acts of kindness. I had a few days earlier witness a random act of kindness in an underground station. I was so touched by the experience, that I resolved making at least one random act of kindness my New Year resolution for 2010.

I’ve been pretty good about it too (even though I say so myself). My random acts of kindness have come in a variety of forms including random text (SMS) messages to old friends, pushing cars stuck in the snow, and giving lifts to hitchhikers. In a way, it’s been the random acts of kindness involving strangers I’ve enjoyed most. The looks and expressions of surprise and appreciation have been a joy to behold. I’ve also used these experiences to put the concept of random acts of kindness into other people’s minds. When the beneficiaries express their thanks I often say something like “No, thank you. I’m committed to performing a random act of kindness every day, and this was today’s. You’ve really helped me out by allowing me to fulfil my commitment.”

I’ve noticed, I think, a lot of random acts of kindness in return. For example, I’ve been making a real effort to be a more considerate driver and, for example, to let more cars out of junctions. I swear I’ve also noticed other drivers being a lot more considerate to me too. Some may say it’s probably my imagination. Quite frankly, I don’t care if it is. My experience is that driving around, including in my home town of London, is easier and more pleasurable. If there’s been no change, and that’s just my perception, I don’t care a jot.

I’ve also been the recipient of some unexpected generosity. I’d like to recount a particular episode, at it provides the lead in to another random acts of kindness I’m going to be writing about later in this post.

Earlier this year I was in Lisbon, Portugal, with my girlfriend, staying with a friend. In the morning, my girlfriend went off to a meeting, and my big priority for the day was to watch the England rugby union team play Italy on the telly. My friend drove me to a bar in Lisbon docks which was showing the match, and my girlfriend was due to pick me up from the bar once the match had ended.

I got myself a beer, and settled down to watch the match. A man who was sitting at a table plum in front of the TV screen saw me, and asked me if I’d like to join him for a better view. I gratefully accepted, and it turned out he was quite a rugby fan (unusual for a Portuguese man). We chatted throughout the match about rugby and other stuff, drinking as we went. At the end of the match, he got up, we bid our farewells, and off he went. I decided to get some fresh air and take walk, as my girlfriend was yet to arrive. When I went to settle my bill, I was told that my beer had been paid for by the gentleman I had been sitting with during the match. It warmed my heart, it really did.

This episode has been on my mind on and off since it happened, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to exact a similar random acts of kindness. Today I got my chance.

I was walking the dog in the park. In the park is a cafe. It was quite chilly today, and there was only one person sitting outside – an elderly lady, eating a bowl of soup. As I passed the cafe I tried to attract her attention just to say hello and happy Easter, but her sole focus appeared to be the soup. As I walked past I remembered the Lisbon bar experience and my desire to pay that random acts of kindness back and it occurred to me that perhaps this was my opportunity.

I went back to the cafe and explained to the proprietor my intention. He was immediately into the spirit of it, and commented: “You’ve picked the right person there – she’s not got a lot of money.” I wanted to cry (but didn’t). I asked what her bill came to – £4.00. I’d come out without my wallet but I had some change in my pocket. It turns out I had just enough for the soup. I told the cafe owner to tell her a random stranger had paid for her soup and under no circumstances to accept any money from her.

I can’t tell you how much pleasure I got paying for this elderly lady’s soup today. I trust she was touched by the gesture. The cafe owner certainly seemed to be! I can’t remember ever getting so much pleasure from £4. I honestly think it’s the best four quid I’ve ever spent!

I suppose I’m hoping these stories might inspire some to carry out one or more random acts of kindness of their own. Done in the right spirit, the beauty of these acts is, everybody wins.

Dr Briffa’s new book – Waist Disposal – the Ultimate Fat Loss Manual for Men – is now available. To learn more about the book click here.

To buy Waist Disposal from amazon.co.uk click here.

18 Responses to Random acts of kindness: an update

  1. Dr. Tim Gerstmar 6 April 2010 at 7:56 am #

    Dr. Briffa,
    Thank you for sharing such an inspiring and heart-warming story. I think so many of us have the best of intentions, but don’t always translate them into concrete actions in our daily lives. You have inspired me to look for a way each day to perform a RAK (random act of kindness). I will leave this tab open to remind me tomorrow when I get up to look for an opportunity. Consider your RAK for tomorrow fulfilled!

    Dr. Tim Gerstmar

  2. Carl 6 April 2010 at 11:26 am #

    You may not have actually cried. But I did reading this. My mum is in the kitchen behind me. I think I’ve got something in my eye…

  3. Mo 6 April 2010 at 11:45 am #

    I’ve been doing a few random acts of kindness recently, not every day, but I actually, like you, don’t care if I don’t get any kindness back. It’s nice to get it, but it’s amazing how good you can feel about doing a small thing for someone else.
    You also make your life interesting, not many people can pop “I paid for a stranger’s soup.” in a conversation.

  4. Faz 7 April 2010 at 2:12 am #

    You open this blog by saying this is not about health, but I have to disagree. Sincere acts of giving are indeed very good for the soul. Whilst curious, I don’t need to wait for a study to prove some measurable biochemical change occurrijg to know this to be true. I’m sure I’ve read some blogs from yourself about the importance of giving on mental health, or I could be thinking of Heartmath.

    I find it interesting you mention driving. I believe giving way for other drivers is one of the easiest forms of “RAK” and I really enjoy doing it each and every time, even when I’m running late, maybe more. I believe it can also be one of the most rewarding and rippling types of RAK too, what with the increased stress rush hour traffic can cause. What really makes me smile in wonder is how frequently and promptly the vehicle I just let infront of me makes a swift left turn an leaves the main road, almost as if it’s cancelling itself out in the scheme of things. Plus giving way to the vehicle has helped avoid a jam whilst other cars waited paitently behind it.

    And judging by the pleasantly surpised looks on the face of some of the drivers, I’m confident they are more inclined to peform some form of RAK shortly themselves, whether whilst driving, or arriving at the office feeling even just a little less stressed, or maybe even positive about the day ahead, all of which does have some ripple affect on their surroundings. Who knows, maybe that driver was having a particularly bad day and a small token gesture of common courtersy was all they required to be given a little, but siginifcant, hope at that moment…

    Very heart warming and inspiring blog. More please! 🙂

  5. Ruthie 9 April 2010 at 4:25 pm #

    Can you imagine what a better place the world would be if this idea really takes off? Although there society has a high proportion of thoughtful, kind people, it’s the thoughtless ones that can easily dominate our perception of humankind. I’d like to see the politicians suggesting that we need a happier, kinder society in their manifestos, and some education that wealthier does not equal happier.

  6. Rizwan Sayed 9 April 2010 at 4:41 pm #

    Dr B…you rock man!!

  7. Michael 9 April 2010 at 10:13 pm #

    Thankyou,gracias,you’ve made my day…I’m starting from now.You’re a good man.

  8. Jill H 10 April 2010 at 12:39 am #

    Yes, thank you – you have made my day too. I know that RAK works. About two weeks ago I was out walking my dog and met a lady walking two very elderly dogs. We exchanged greetings and she went on ahead. I next saw her on the ground in a great amount of distress as she had tripped and fallen and could not move her ankle. I had no money on me otherwise I would have called a taxi – but I sat on the ground with her and tried to find out whether there was anybody I could call. She had apparently just moved into the area but gave me the number of a friend living about a half hour drive away. I should say here that I have just moved to California and she was adamant that I should not call an ambulance (another more political story, I guess). I sat with her as we waited for the friend and two young girls walked past and stopped – the only ones of many strangers walking past to stop and find out why two older ladies should be sitting on the ground with three dogs. They were absolutely wonderful. The lady was so scared she would not be able to walk her dogs and, having just moved to the area, knew no-one who could and immediately one of the girls said she would walk the dogs and gave the lady all her details with strict instructions to call her. I also was almost moved to tears. The friend came and we carefully put the two dogs and lady in the car. Yesterday I walking my dog and a car pulled up and the lady got out with her foot in a protective boot and gave me a hug. The young girl had indeed been walking her dogs.

  9. Mandy 10 April 2010 at 1:02 am #

    Have you read the book ‘The Secret’ – it is amazing and has blown me away. There is a chapter that really backs up your beliefs about random act of kindness. Thank you for your amazing weekly emails.

  10. Chris 11 April 2010 at 8:09 am #

    There are a number of dynamics of modern living that are under explored for what they may say about some undesirable health and quality of life issues.
    One prominent area is the modern relationship with food for how that relates to the major health challenges of our time and a second area is the link between mind and body and how that relates to health outcomes.

    In the former trends and changes in the human diet (largely) evident in the contrasts between a pre-agrarian and post-agrarian existence may reveal metrics that can explain such prominent health concerns such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimers, and more besides.
    Metrics that look promising are diets of raised aggregate Glycemic Load (GL) and a change to the balance of the range of fats and oils consumed; over consumption of certain polyunsaturated fatty acids more specifically. Additionally under consumption of soluble fibre may be a revealing contrast as may the hepatic load arising from the refinement and consumption of sugar (sucrose) and from fructose in HFCS.
    Such metrics highlight trends in the human diet that are ‘novel’ in terms of the long term evolution of the species and of the diet of the species. The progress of the trends is largely attributable to driving forces that are economically driven dynamics.

    The second area is neglected because of the persistence of a mechanistic and Newtonian approach to science that excludes old world and non-scientific components of an earlier knowledge economy that may well be perfectly satisfactory wisdom. Now the branching tract of Biology that is Epigenetics may offer insight as to how thought and stress may influence health and even genetic expression where once a mantra of ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’ Happy people live longer, don’t they?
    The odd thing is that it is behavioral changes that seem to get in the way of being nice to each other. In our enterprising society we seem to place greater importance upon our contribution to the enterprise than we do to each other. Collaborative behaviours are determined by economic reward. Outside of that people of the developed world can be very selfish and the commute to work exemplifies that. Economic development and economic evolution stems from the opportunities that arise from agricultural surplus afforded by the contrast of the pre and post agrarian ages. Humans put a price on many things above our own health and happiness.

    Random acts of kindness work for the giver and receiver. Just because there lacks a plausible scientific explanation as to how and why, or that there is a lack of economic benefit in the act should not deter us frtom behaving like the real humans we could be.

    Food is overlooked for its involvement in the evolution of species, and the evolution of the human diet could be mined more deeply for how it shapes the evolution of ou rown species.
    The evolution of the human relationship with food is a missing link in a continuum of evolution. It links human behavioural and sociological evolution with Darwinian evolution. In turn the food and habitat relationship links Darwinian thoughts with Potts’ (1) thoughts on the orbital variations (etc.) of the Earth that drive climatic shift, glacials and interglacial periods, and an imperative created by a changing climate and its influence on habitat that rewards adaption afforded by mutation.

  11. Chris 11 April 2010 at 8:56 am #

    I meant ‘where once a mantra … do unto you, SUFFICED.

    And that ref. .. (1) Rick Potts; Humanitys’ Descent.

    John, can I thank you for the kindness and opportunities afforded by your blog which, so far as I can tell, is unrivaled fro its integrity in removing the bullsh!t from the topics of food, diet and health matters. Some insight as to the persistence of such bullsh!t might be afforded by my submission above. It works for me and that’s all I know.

    I would like to mention another of your profession by name. Dr Helen Tinsley has been hugely supportive in the five week period between the diagnosis and death from lung cancer of my mother-in-law. The rate of decline was challenging for us and in an impromptu consultation when I explained the 74 year old appeared to have given up Helen smiled comfortingly and replied, “They usually get what they want.” The reply prompted me to think of Epigenetics and the possible link between mind, body, and life. She died just three days later and just twelve hours after she uttered the words, “I know I’m on my last legs.” God rest her.

    Again as an act of kindness, if you read this and smoke could I ask you to kick the habit. I’ve wept buckets watching someone decline so rapidly and so needlessly. And though I may never know you or know you that you have given up I would perceive it as a reciprocal act of kindness if you did.

  12. Everett 11 April 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    “silent monk” is another phrase for this, and it is a worthy endeavor for everyone. Thanks for blogging about it!

  13. Brett Hardman 12 April 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    I have three words to add: law of attraction.


  14. Sue T 12 April 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    Great stuff and heartwarming story about the old lady and soup. Well done to Dr B for spreading this idea around, I will aim to include it too.

  15. Richard Beck 22 November 2010 at 2:42 am #

    I did some limited statistical research on the lifespan of famous philanthropists and on average they seemed to live a bit longer than a cross-section of their contemporaries who were famous for other things. Perhaps this gives a hint that doing good makes one feel good and feel ‘needed’ and tends to extend life. (Or maybe it’s the very fit and energetic people who already feel well inside who have the energy and resources to be philanthropic- but I prefer the more inspiring, causal connection idea preceding these brackets.)

  16. Dr Andrew Longstaff 20 June 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    RAKs, which I’ve been doing for a while, are a somewhat guilty pleasure, since I’m never quite sure whether the warm glow is just being smug and self-satisfied. Hope not.
    I started, at my wife’s not wholly serious suggestion that I give my gloves to a frozen Big Issue seller, which I did, astonishing my companions, the seller and mostly myself.
    My favourite was hearing a busker singing from “Adele 19”, the week “Adele 21” came out. I asked her if she had heard “21”, she said “No”, so I gave her a tenner and said to buy it, before slipping anonymously into the crowd. I don’t know what happened to her busking career, but Adele hasn’t looked back.

  17. Luis Fernando 26 June 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    Dr. Driffa:

    Thank you for your RAK post. I am looking forward for more of this stuff promptly. For me the simplest ramdom act of kindness is smiling. It´s for free and always works.

    In spanish a RAK is an ABA: un acto aleatorio de bondad.

    From now on, I am your follower.

    Luis Fernando


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