A Rare and Wonderful Thing

“Kindness is a rare and wonderful thing.” A man told me this on the bus the other day, in complete shock after I paid for his ride when he didn’t have a prepaid ticket. The thing is, I believe he is wrong. Sometimes its hard not think that the world is full of nothing but selfishness, anger, hatred, and devastation. You only have to turn on the TV to see all these things every minute of every day. However, there is also positivity, courage, generosity, compassion and joy. This blog has given me the opportunity to “meet” incredibly inspiring and giving people from all over the world, all making it a better place in their own unique way. I believe that if you look a little deeper, the world is overflowing with kindness.

And I need your help to prove it. In just under four weeks the Year of Kindness will officially be complete. Crazy but true. There are just twenty eight kind deeds left until hitting the big 365. The Kindness Army is preparing to go out with a bang. The first way you can help is by using your amazing, creative, outside-the-box thinking to come up with kind deeds for the Kindness Army to spread maximum happiness. I have a few exciting plans for the last group kindness mission which I’m keeping completely secret from the Kindness Recruits, just to make it a little more fun. So if you have an idea please email me (yearofkindness@gmail.com) so we can keep it on the down low.

The second and most important way you can help the Kindness Revolution is to join it. The mission, as always, is simple: do something kind on April 5th, the very last day of the Year of Kindness. There are so, so many ways it can be done. Buy a stranger’s coffee, reach out to a lonely neighbour, talk to a homeless person, smile at someone and say hello. Make a connection. Brighten someone’s day. Remind them that kindness is everywhere. And it is wonderful.

Kindness #314: Valentine’s Day

The need: To brighten up Valentine’s Day for those that may not have received a Valentine!  Yes, its cliche and commercial but its also an excuse to show some kindness, which is never a bad thing in my book.

The mission: Handing out flowers at Wynyard train station, Sydney, to people making the daily commute home after work. Each Kindness Agent bought a bunch of flowers – pink and orange gebras, purple carnations and of course red roses. We also wrote our own positive or inspirational quotes to attach to each flower.

We found the perfect bustling spot standing in a line next to double escalators leading down to the station. At the front of the line Agent R held two signs reading ‘Random Act of Kindness’ and ‘Free Flowers’. Agents H, A, S, S and W handed out the flowers. I stood at the end of the line holding a sign saying ‘Happy Valentine’s Day!’

People seemed quite surprised to see what we were doing. All the women generally smiled and took the flowers with a genuine thank you. A lot of men refused, with two that took the flowers feeling the need to explain: “It’s for my wife! Not for me!” Some people on the other escalator were quite upset they were missing out, so quick thinking Agent S raced down the steps to stand and hand out flowers on the other side too.


 This woman exclaimed, “Yes! Give me one! I need a flower today!”
I think we definitely brightened up a lot of people’s Valentine’s Day and we had a huge amount of fun doing it. Thankyou so much to the Kindness Crew for your positivity and enthusiasm and just general awesomeness! 

Undercover Kindness Mission: Positively Complimentary

“Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.” – Everybody is Free to Wear Sunscreen, Baz Luhrman

Imagine you are sitting down with your boss for a performance review. They describe one of your positive thing you have brought to the job and then point out one area of your work that isn’t up to standard. Which piece of feedback will you be focusing on for the rest of the day? If you’re like most people, it will be the negative one.

On average, we speak about 16000 words every day. But when it comes to remembering words that were spoken to us (or that we speak to ourselves), we tend to remember the negative, critical words so much more easily than positive, kind ones. Why is this? Apparently its all down to the ‘negativity bias’ of the brain. Our minds are wired to hold onto negative information so if we want to maintain a positive outlook we need at least double the amount of positive words to counteract any negative ones. *

With that in mind, today’s undercover kindness mission** was to spread positive words all over the city of Sydney, whether spoken, written with pens and paper or scrawled in chalk on the pavement. Here’s a little bit of what happened:

Welcome to Sydney (cruise ship, Circular Quay)

The only person that can make you happy is YOU (The Rocks)

 Thankyou! Best coffee in Sydney (Bacino, North Sydney – for Sydneysiders that love their coffee and haven’t been here, do yourself a kindness and get the cappuccino with real chocolate on top! Pure deliciousness.)

I hope your day was full of positive thoughts and kind words. And if it wasn’t, you know what your mission is for tomorrow…

*If you would like to read more about the power of positive words, check this out: http://www.peggybert.com/2010/09/30/positive-and-negative-words/

**There is less than three months left before the Year of Kindness comes to an end (eek), and I am planning some of the biggest kindness missions yet. If you are in Sydney and would like to get involved in a group undercover kindness mission, or have any ideas/suggestions, check out the YOK Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Kindness-Army-aka-Year-of-Kindness/272045112862710.

Choice vs. Obligation: Intention is Everything

What’s the difference between being a yes-person and being a kind person? I was faced with this tricky question recently. Afer pondering it for a little while, I came to the conclusion that it is all about intention. As I have talked about before, I am a recovering people-pleaser. I used to constantly say yes when I really wanted to say no. I would feel obligated to do whatever would make the other person/people happy, no matter how miserable and resentful it might make me feel. And in my experience doing something for someone else when you don’t want to almost always makes you miserable.

Have you ever said yes to a party invitation when you really desperately just wanted to veg out on the couch? How much did you enjoy that party? And how much did you add to the party for the host and other guests? My guess is not much on both counts. So it wasn’t a kindness to the other party-goers and it certainly wasn’t a kindness to you. Saying yes to everything and anything is just not healthy.

So how could a year of kindness (essentially consciously trying to make someone else happy each and every day) actually be good for a chronic yes-person? Because for me it meant that giving is no longer an obligation, it is a choice. A choice that I make over again each day. I decide to look out for opportunities to be kind, and then if I am sure it will be no skin off my nose, and that I expect nothing from the recipient, I take the opportunity. If it feels like an obligation or a chore, I simply don’t do it. If I have a day when I feel so overstretched that I don’t have anything left to give, I decide to take it easy and be kind to myself instead.

After starting this project I quickly realised that if I’m feeling obligated to be kind then I am far more likely to take it personally if the recipient of my kindness is ungrateful or unappreciative. Giving with a negative intention (because you feel you “should”, to get something out of it, to make someone think better of you) is not really a kindness to anyone. Because eventually you will feel so resentful you’ll explode, or you will burn out, or you will simply forget that you actually have any wants or needs of your own. And all of these scenarios will actually prevent you from giving fully to others.

So the next time you are about to say “yes” to something, please stop
and ask yourself, is it because you feel obligated or can you genuinely say is it an easy and happy choice?

The Power of a Post-It


One of my favourite children’s books is When I’m Feeling Sad by Tracey Maroney. There is a line in the book that describes sadness as something which makes the whole world seem grey and dull and droopy. A perfect explanation of how our mind can shape our reality. And a perfect description of how things looked to me (and probably many others) on September 11th. I didn’t want things to look grey on that day – I wanted to see colour and resilience and joy everywhere. I didn’t want to feel sad, either – I wanted to feel inspired and motivated to perform a beautiful act of kindness on the anniversary of the most unkind act imaginable. But there it was: everywhere I turned, there were grey buildings, grey faces, grey thoughts. Sometimes the sadness and the greyness is just too big.

And then a few days later I remembered that whatever I wanted to see in the world, I could help to create it. If I wanted to be reminded that we live in a beautiful, colourful, joyful world, the best way was to remind others. So armed with some sparkly pens and pretty post-its, my friend K and I waged a kindness campaign against all the most grey and dreary objects we could find. We put love in phone booths, smiles on tables, positivity at bus stops and happiness on park benches …

We imagined people as they sat down at the table, stepped into the booth to make a phone call or sat down to wait for a bus, each one stopping for a moment as they found a little handwritten note. We knew at least some of them would smile. And suddenly, just like that, the world seemed a lot less grey.

High Five Mission

My lastest kindness mission was the biggest one yet, and definitely the most fun. I called on some Kindness Army Recruits – Agents A, C, J, K and S – and inspired by Improv Everywhere we gave out free high fives to passers by at Central Train Station.

Central is one of Sydney’s busiest train stations and this mission took place during peak hour on a week day in one of the main tunnels leading to the platforms. Five of us stood next to one side of the tunnel holding signs reading: “We want” “To give you” “A high five” “Get ready” and the fifth person gave out the high fives. We all took turns being the high-fiver because this was by far the most fun!

Most of the commuters were coming home from work looking fairly tired and fed up, or just lost in their own little bubble and totally disconnected from everything around them. When they spotted our first sign they looked a bit confused, and then as they read the other signs many of them began to smile, take out their headphones, put away their iphones in preparation for the high five. Some of them even commented “Awesome!” “Wow, that’s great!” There were very few people who refused to give a high five, and out of the hundreds of people that took part, only two asked, “Why are you doing this?” The answer “Just because” seemed to confuse them even more. Not for money or advertising or anything?? Crazy.

I think one of the reasons it was such a successful kindness mission was because rather than approaching people trying to give them something, they read the signs and made the choice to approach us and accept what we were offering. All the Kindness Recruits had huge smiles on our faces throughout the whole mission, and so did most of the high-five recipients. It was quite amazing to experience how such a simple, silly gesture could instantly brighten up so many people’s evenings. The lovely Agent K used her beautiful photography skills to capture some of the best reactions of people:

Thankyou to the awesome Kindness Agents who helped make this mission possible, and to the recipients who jumped on board so joyfully. And to all you other lovely Kindness Recruits, go give someone a high-five “just because”!

The True Meaning of Success (Wisdom from My Grandpa)

“To laugh often, and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better… To know even one other life has breathed easier because you lived.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Losing my grandma was one of the biggest Big D’s in my life, and that of my whole family. She was an incredibly selfless person, full of cuddles and laughter and endless love and positivity. I dedicate this project to her, because she was the one to instill the value of kindness within me. After she died I worried a lot about how my grandpa would cope. In stark contrast to my grandma, he has never been very good at expressing his emotions or connecting with others. He much prefers to talk about facts and numbers and dates. But since she died something very interesting has happened – my withdrawn grandpa has been slowly been coming out of his shell, emerging just a little bit softer and warmer and more expressive. Suddenly he has started to make an effort to reach out and connect, much to everyone’s surprise.

Tonight at a family dinner he told me he wanted to share something with me, and then read out the Emerson quote above. He said it made him think of me because thats what I was trying to do: “to make other people breathe a little easier, and that’s really what matters in the end.” I felt goose bumps rise up on my skin. I had no idea that he even knew about my kindness project, let alone that he would understand so completely the very heart of it. His thoughtfulness was that much more beautiful and profound because it was so utterly unexpected. It made me realise that perhaps my grandma and grandpa weren’t so different after all. That underneath we all just want to breathe easier and believe that we helped someone else to do the same.

Undercover Kindness, Old School Style

In this fast-paced, techno-obsessed age, there is something extra wonderful (and yes, kind) about taking the time to do things the slow way. I have written before about my hippy tendencies, about my vague but persistent urge to embrace the ‘peace and love’ movement. Whenever I am feeling a bit lost, the things that ground me again are getting back to basics – cooking a slow meal, surrounding myself with nature, reading a good book, connecting with others.

So after a couple of weeks of being overwhelmed by “life stuff” and wandering off the kindness path, I decided the way to get back on track was going old school – slowing down and simplifying. I also did around two kindnesses each day to make up for lost time! I spent a day smiling and saying hello to people (always a challenge even to get eye contact). I made brownies for my new housemates. Went for a bushwalk and picked up rubbish. Bought a Big Issue and talked to two homeless people. Helped a lost boy find his father and lost tourists find the train station. I stuck post-its in public bathroom mirrors with comments such as “Hey, good looking! You’re gorgeous – don’t doubt it!” I also sent hand written cards to two of my most beautiful friends. There is something wonderful about recieving mail that is not bills or advertising, especially when you are not expecting it. Knowing someone thought of you and took the time to put pen to paper makes it feel like there is happiness and love tucked inside the envelope amongst every word.

My most fun kindness was an undercover mission to the library armed with my heart post-its, inspired by Kindnessgirl. Many people claim that books will very soon be obsolete with the invention of all the various electronic reading devices. The thought that one day books will go the way of CDs and videotapes is quite horrifying to me – I think there are few greater pleasures in life than curling up with a pre-loved novel on a rainy day. Or sharing a much-loved book with a child. There is something completely irreplacable about the feel and the smell and the very idea of a book and all the promises it has kept and made. A great book has the power to entertain and amuse and inform and inspire – to change your perspective and your life. I read a short story once that said the only people that would truly be able to live forever without becoming bored would be those that love books – there could never be enough time to read them all. For this mission I spent most of my time in the self-help and travel sections, imagining who might be picking up each book and writing notes of encouragement and positivity. For example, on a book about thinking your way slim: “The journey to your best self has already begun. Keep going!” And on a book about Brazil: “Rio Carnevale = the time of your life. Do it!”

I encourage you to take up the library challenge – it costs nothing, it might give someone a very unexpected boost of happiness and really is a lot of fun! Go forth and post-it. I’m off to read my book…

Rainy Day Smiles

Lots of very simple things become far more complicated when it’s raining. Like getting to work via public transport without being completely saturated (epic fail). Or getting a decent nights sleep without having a leaky ceiling drip on your face (epic, epic fail). But there’s one thing that is surprisingly, much easier in bad weather: being kind. The last few days in Sydney have been ridiculously rainy, windy and cold. Everyone is reluctantly trudging along through it and there is a certain atmosphere of grumpiness and ready-for-summerness, which in a weird way actually brings everyone together.

Yesterday I offered to share my umbrella with someone who was caught in the rain without one. I discovered this is one of those very rare kindnesses that people generally accept with minimum wariness and maximum gratitude. And today, I decided to try my luck with a kindness that usually has very little success in Sydney – smiling at people as they walked past. But the funny thing is, today as we struggled with umbrellas turning inside out and buses sending waves of water splashing onto us, I found that strangers in the rain also laugh and smile together far more than those in the sunshine. Read into that what you will!

This week I also babysat for my lovely friends K and J and bought a coffee for a guy who looked like his eyes might actually pop out of his head at the very idea of it. Once he had recovered, he remarked that he would make sure he was at the coffee shop at the exact same time tomorrow. Nice try! I also did the following things I usually don’t make time for: went to a dance class, said yes to every dessert I was offered (and worked very hard not to feel any guilt about it!), did a yoga/meditation class and spent several hours reading a good book with no interruptions. I didn’t realise how long it had been since I had done many of these things – they seem so little but the happiness they create is pretty big!

And in one of those wonderful twists the universe likes to organise sometimes, this weekend I am invited to a Kindness Conference (who knew there was such a thing?) and the topic is A Time For Renewal: The World Can Only Change From Within. Yes, that’s right, a whole two-days of talks and techniques from professional (and international) kindness crusaders on how and why to be kinder to yourself. So I will definitely report back to you on that one.

I hope you’re all doing well with the kindness to self challenge. And if you’re caught in the rain this week too, remember you can always create your own sunshine just by smiling!

Weekly Mission: Be Kind to Yourself

One of the many unexpected lessons I have learned while doing this project is that no matter who you are and what you have experienced, being kind to yourself is often the most challenging of all kindnesses. We all know it’s not good to take on too much, to feed ourselves an endless loop of negative self-talk, to constantly doubt our own worth and to give without being equally open to recieving. Most importantly, failing to look after ourselves and value ourselves means we are not able to give fully to others. If we feel drained of energy, love, positivity and kindness, it is virtually impossible to give those things to anyone else. Thinking about it this way makes me realise I must start making it more of a priority. Every day I make time for work, gym, socialising and doing one kind deed for someone else, but being kind to myself tends to slip off the to-do pile.

Apart from the hospital visit on Wednesday, my kindnesses this week have been on a smaller scale and this is in some ways a kindness to myself. Although the most most rewarding kindnesses are usually those that require really going out on a limb, they take up a lot of time and energy and its simply not sustainable to keep that up every day. Besides that, sometimes even the smallest kindnesses can be more powerful than you could ever predict, as was the case this week.

On Tuesday I bought coffee for a lady who looked very stressed and frazzled. She was in a big rush to get to work until she heard about the year of kindness, and then seemed to have all day to talk about the importance of being kind to one another! Thursday I baked brownies for a friend who has just had a baby. And on Friday I spoke to the gym instructor to tell her I had really enjoyed her class. I also told her she should not get so down on herself for the tiny mistakes she made, because I wouldn’t have even noticed if she hadn’t kept pointing them out! Just another example of how we can create self-fulfilling prophecies. This morning when I saw her again she revealled that she had actually been thinking of quitting because she felt she wasn’t very good at being an instructor, but after that class she had changed her mind because she realised her her “flaws” were probably mostly in her head. Incredible the power of some positive feedback. I’m so glad she had that realisation, considering she loves the job so much and is actually one of the best instructors.

After all the incredible kindness experiences that took place on July 13th a few of you have requested more missions that we can undertake together. So, each week I will set a different mission – something I will also do myself, of course – and you can choose to join in if you wish. I hope you will continue to share the results of your missions because it is amazing to hear about the little kindness ripples spreading out all over the world!

This week’s mission: Be kind to yourself. Do at least one thing this week that is purely about making you feel happy, calm and worthy of your own kindness. And if you know someone that needs to be kinder to themselves, encourage them to join in this mission too. Go for a walk in the rain, cook your favourite meal, meditate, dance around your living room, buy yourself some flowers, make a list of all the things that are awesome about you. Forgive yourself. Talk to yourself as you would your very best friend. Be happy. You deserve it.

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