The Case for Random Acts of Kindness

Think about a time that someone did something to help you out. Maybe it was completely unexpected, or from a total stranger — a random act of kindness. How did it feel to be on the receiving end?

Now consider a time when you did something to help out someone else. Whatever it was, no matter how seemingly inconsequential. How did that feel?

“If I could give you one thought, it would be to lift someone up. Lift a stranger up — lift her up. I would ask you, mother and father, brother and sister, lovers, mother and daughter, father and son, lift someone. The very idea of lifting someone up will lift you, as well.”

~ Maya Angelou

Kindness, it turns out, is good for your mental health. And doling it out generously to others, with no expectation of a return favor, can be an essential component of finding purpose and meaning in our lives. This sense of “self-efficacy,” as psychologists call it, is an important component of psychological well-being and is increasingly recognized as one of the tenets of healthy brain aging. 

Helping Others Can Help Yourself

In other words, by doing good for others, you’re doing good for yourself. For your mental health, your psychological well-being, and for your physical health. Learn more in 10 Benefits of Helping Others.

A 2020 study reviewed decades of research investigating how so-called “prosocial” behaviors, which focus on benefiting others, are linked to well-being. They found a small but significant relationship across all the studies, revealing complex interplays depending on the type of behavior, how different groups are affected differently, and how “well-being” is interpreted.

For example, prosociality was more strongly associated with what’s called eudaimonic well-being, which is linked to experiences of meaning and purpose (daimon is Greek for “true nature”), than with hedonistic well-being, which is linked to experiences of pleasure and enjoyment. Women were more likely to experience eudaimonic well-being from prosocial acts. Also, “informal giving” – ala random acts – was more strongly associated with well-being than “formal giving” through donations or volunteerism. In another twist, older people report more physical benefits of kindness compared to younger people, who report greater psychological benefit.

Helping others can also impact one’s prospects for living longer and, importantly, for living well right into old age. Brain-aging studies consistently find that people who age “successfully,” with less cognitive decline, tend to exhibit greater self-efficacy. They actively engage in past-times that make them feel as if what they do matters.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

How to Help

When Covid first permeated our lives, helping hands were everywhere. Neighbors checked in on neighbors. School children delivered groceries to home-bound elderly.  Mutual-aid groups sprung up throughout the state, connecting people who wanted to help to those who needed help. One statewide group on Facebook started by registered nurse and state legislator Mari Cordes as a “space to crowdsource how we can help our neighbors” swiftly attracted 8,000+ followers and continues to be a source of information- and resource-sharing. Front Porch Forum has also emerged as a place for community members to ask for and offer assistance.

To find more formal volunteer opportunities with organizations in your community, check out the United Way’s Volunteer Connection. The website is a searchable statewide portal where nonprofits can register their needs and individuals can find positions based on their skills or interests. 

Of course, you don’t need to sign up with any kind of formal organization or belong to any particular group to be of help to someone. You only need to have the desire to offer assistance. The opportunities are boundless and ubiquitous. And they are often right in front of us. Sometimes all it takes is smiling at a stranger who may not be smiling, or holding the door for the person rushing toward it.

For more ideas about how to be of service in small, every-day ways, see “Hints on Helping” and “Ways to Volunteer” from Mental Health America.

Learn More and Find Resources

Read University College London’s overview of the health effects of kindness in 10 Benefits of Helping Others.

The Secret to Happiness is Helping Others, by Jenni Santi, offers 5 general guidelines for finding a way to help.

Read more on why volunteering is good for your health in HelpGuide’s Volunteering and Its Surprising Benefits.

If you still need inspiration, try this:

Blog written by Brenda Patoine on behalf of VCN/Vermont Care Partners for COVID Support Vermont, a grant funded by FEMA and the Vermont Department of Mental Health

Need to Talk?

Call 2-1-1 (in Vermont) for assistance.

In Crisis? 

If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825; text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health center for 24/7 support. 

Find Help

Find resources and tools for coping with stress at

One-click translation to 100 languages of most everything on the website, plus Multilingual Resources.

Find your local community mental health center by visiting Vermont Care Partners.

COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports. 

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