What 365 Acts of Kindness Have Given Me

Countless cups of coffee. Many bunches of flowers. Hundreds of high fives. At least 365 smiles. Baked goods for neighbours and gratitude cards for friends. Compliments and positive post it notes. Volunteering time and donating clothes. Leaving small change in parking metres, vending machines and sometimes upturned hats. Food and conversation for those that didn’t have either. A fundraising BBQ for a friend and sleeping under the stars (or clouds) for the homeless. These are some of the things I gave during the Year of Kindness. So what exactly did I get?

Well, basically, some crazy, challenging, beautiful, unexpected, wonderful, confronting experiences and lots of life lessons…

Embrace uncertainty because you can never ever predict how someone will respond, even when your only motivation is to inject some happiness into their day. Fear? Anger? Joy? Hugs and kisses? Even the smallest act of kindness can create all of the above (and did).

Courage comes from believing strongly enough in something to ignore the fear that comes with it. Being kind to strangers is scary (due to the aforementioned uncertainty and strong possibility of public humiliation.) But a world without kindness is scarier.


Perception shapes reality by allowing us to see only what we believe. Some people were literally unable to see kindness when it was right in front of them, reacting with suspicion and distrust because they did not believe that kindness without hidden agenda even existed. And because they ran away from it, their perception remains their reality.

No matter how crazy you feel for dreaming your dream, if you share it you will discover other people out there who are just as crazy about it as you are. After believing I was a little bit nuts for wanting to make the world a kinder place, I discovered all of you – a whole army of incredible Kindness Crusaders all over the world doing just that.

All of these lessons, and many more, kind of boil down to one idea. In my very first post back in March 2010 I wondered: Can kindness be powerful? And I found out almost immediately that it could, but  it wasn’t until well after the very last Undercover Kindness Mission that I could pinpoint what it was that gave kindness its power. The mission was a kindness treasure hunt. The group split into three teams, decoded clues and headed out into Sydney to give flowers, positive post-its and birthday presents (27 presents for my 27th birthday). It went something like this:

It was a fun day, and as always there was an incredibly positive energy that comes from a group of people gathering with the simple intention of spreading happiness to others. But in all the organising and craziness I didn’t have much time to reflect on the very last kindness mission in a whole Year of Kindness. It wasn’t until a few days afterwards that an answer suddenly came to me about why it is that kindness is so powerful. Why people can react to kindness with anger or joy but very rarely indifference.  Why kindness gave me the courage to share my crazy journey with all of you and to decide to face uncertainty and fear 365 times over. Why it can alter someones day or even transform their perception of the world. And I think it is this:

The essence of kindness is validation. Everyone wants to feel important, heard, cared for, valued, understood, appreciated. And in an act of kindness, no matter how small, we are telling that person that we see them, we acknowledge them, that even if we don’t know them they are worthy of our help and our care.   And that is powerful. That one small act of validation truly can throw out roots in all directions that create new trees. So take a moment, think of how you might help, cheer, encourage, support, give, even in the smallest of ways, and go and do it. For in that simple act there is endless power and possibility.

Thankyou for joining me on this roller coaster ride of a year, and offering so much support, love and wisdom. You can catch me blogging about my Tanzanian adventure here: nextstoptanzania.wordpress.com. I hope life is kindful for you all, and if its not remember you have the power to be the change.

Cat

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.

When Life Gives You Lemonade…

Life is full of lemonade. Joyful smiles. Music that makes your heart sing. The laughter and comfort of good friends, of knowing there is a soft place to fall. Everything in life that is hard, overwhelming, beautiful, meaningful, pushing you to expand out beyond your current self into something bigger and better.

Right now my cup of lemonade is overflowing. I am so grateful for it, but I have also come to realise that when anything overflows it means something else is lost. The Year of Kindness has indirectly lead me to take on many new adventures that constantly provide moments of real challenge and real joy.  But these new adventures have left very little time for blogging, and so I haven’t written a Year of Kindness post in a while. I’m still doing kindnesses but rather than being conscious decisions they are more often then not things that just seem to happen while I’m busy making other plans. Things that have somehow become second nature without me even realising it – paying for someone’s bus fare when they don’t have change, stopping to talk to the homeless man down the street, positive post it notes anywhere and everywhere, volunteering for causes I really believe in, money in expired parking metres, buying organic, chatting to the bus driver, trying to actively listen and really be present for friends and family, just saying yes.

When I started this project I was restless and frustrated and a little lost. I wanted to prove that every individual has the power to create something positive amidst the chaos and cruelty of the world. That there is so much good all around us if only we look close enough. That you can be the change you want to see in the world. Now I know all these things to be true. But in these lessons I’m faced with a decision – do I try to get re-inspired, keep challenging myself with new and different kindness missions and continue to write about these experiences? Or do I accept that it is time to let this blog go, to enjoy the lemonade of small spontaneous kindnesses and stop trying to catch the overflow? Jury is definitely out…

10 Surprising Lessons from 6 Months of Kindness

1. You can only give to people who are open to recieving. (You cannot save people. You cannot change people. Some people will say no and some people will run away. Seriously. You can only give to those that are open and eager to accept what you have to offer.)

2. Kindness to self is the hardest kindness of all. (Life will always contain too many shoulda woulda couldas. Cut out the negative tapes in your head. Speak to yourself as you would your best friend.)

3. Some people just “get it”, love it, support it – no matter what. (These are the wonderful, incredible, beautiful cheerleaders that will provide you with chocolate and rainboots in those inevitable moments of overwhelming doubt. They are the ones like my amazing Kindness Crew who join me on the craziest of missions without question, whether its high-fiving commuters or handing out flowers to hospital patients who speak no English, as we did on Wednesday. More on this later…)

4. Inspiration is fleeting. (Keep on truckin’, put in the perspiration and when inspiration returns you will be glad you did. And while you’re waiting, hang out with your cheerleaders as much as you can.)

5. We all have superpowers. (How are you going to change the world?)

6. If karma exists, it certainly isn’t instant. (Doing anything for the sole purpose of getting something out of it never works. But guess what? You can create your own positive karma by letting go of expectations and enjoying the process.)

7. Every person has a story and a lesson. (When you start to really look and listen, you can find wisdom in the most unexpected places .)

8. You are not alone. (No matter how crazy your journey may seem, there are always others on a similar path. Be brave and shout out your deepest loves, fears and dreams – I promise you will find kindred spirits.)

9. Listen to your instincts. (They always, always know the right thing to do. Always.)

10. Kindness is powerful.

Kindness is not weakness. Kindness is not foolish. Kindness is not the easy option. Sometimes you feel like a lunatic being kind. Sometimes it seems like the world has run out of kindness altogether. But actually, it is everywhere. And it is endlessly powerful. It creates smiles. It brightens days. It builds bridges. It is contageous. It opens up doors to experiences, connections and lessons that otherwise would have been lost. It ripples out beyond giver and reciever in the most unexpectedly wonderful ways. Year of Kindness has not always gone according to plan and that’s a good thing. Despite the unexpected twists and turns (or perhaps because of them) I believe now more than ever in the power of kindness. And you should too.

Kindness Army: We Want YOU!

I can’t quite believe that I am now almost six months into my Year of Kindness. Seems like only yesterday I was stumbling through my very first day, offering smiles to strangers and recieving very few in return. I didn’t like all the negativity, selfishness and cruelty I saw all around me. After a long time of feeling frustrated and helpless, I decided I would do something about it. I wanted to prove (to myself as much as anyone else) that despite all the inevitable bad stuff in life, even the smallest acts of good can be powerful in the most unexpected ways and every single person has the power to make the world a kinder place.

Last time I asked for your help I was overwhelmed by how eagerly and wholeheartedly you took on the challenge, spreading little ripples of happiness and positivity all over the world. Wednesday, October 12th will mark the exact halfway point of this project. And I’d like to once again ask for your help with a collective kindness mission. It’s simple: do something kind for a stranger. It does not have to be big, but on the other hand what have you got to lose? Why not challenge yourself to do a kindness that you wouldn’t normally take on? When buying your morning coffee, pay for the person in line behind you. Instead of walking past a homeless person and avoiding eye contact, offer them a sandwich, a smile, a kind word. Trust me, it’s not as scary as it might seem, and there’s a pretty good chance it will lead to an interesting connection you would not have otherwise experienced.

So go forth and be kind, recruits! And be sure to tell us all how you get on.

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”!

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