Random Acts of Kindness Day is celebrated annually on Feb. 17, a day to spread kindness and pay it forward in whatever way you can.
The special day was launched in the 1990s by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to "make kindness the norm." The foundation’s website lists simple gestures to carry out, such as writing a positive review of a local business online, mailing someone a handwritten letter just because, or wheeling out your neighbor’s trash can.
Throughout human history, people have been known to help others through selfless acts of compassion and generosity, including more well-known figures like Princess Diana — who famously shook the hand of an AIDS patient without gloves and used her platform to challenge the once-common yet incorrect belief that the disease could be transmitted by touch.
"Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you," the late princess once said.
And there have also been many lesser-known instances of kindness, reflected in viral news stories and in day-to-day actions that don’t necessarily get attention but are still huge in their impact.
Here are just a few, as well as other suggestions of how to spread kindness:
Heartwarming stories to celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Day
Last year, high school senior Daverius Peters was almost banned from walking in his graduation ceremony after he didn’t follow the Louisiana school’s shoe policy. In a panic, he asked John Butler, a paraeducator and student mentor at the school, for help. The teacher immediately took his shoes off and gave them to the student.
Despite the shoes being two sizes too big for the high school student, Butler said the graduate looked relieved at the gesture.
"When Mr. John said I can wear his shoes, my joy came back," Peters said.
In another instance of kindness, ICU nurse Ashlee Schwartz sought to help an Arkansas man who lost his wife to COVID-19 and became a single father within the span of two months.
Eric Robison’s wife, Emily, was just 22 years old when she died last year and was seven months into her pregnancy. Doctors were able to save the baby, who was born two months early at 2 pounds, 9 ounces. And with that, Robison suddenly became a single father with little time to prepare for his newborn’s arrival.
Schwartz took notice of the young family and later posed a question to the hospital’s nurses in a private Facebook group asking if anyone would like to help donate some necessities — prompting thousands of dollars in donations and items to fill up the baby’s nursery.
Eric Robison sits with the donations he received for his newborn, Carmen. (Ashlee Schwartz)
One suggested random act of kindness from the foundation is buying lemonade from a child’s stand in the neighborhood. Hundreds of motorcyclists in South Dakota did just that last year for an 8-year-old boy, who started a donation-only lemonade stand in 2020 as a way to raise money to buy a Lego set.
On the first day, Wyatt Dennis’ stand became a huge hit for bikers in Sturgis, home to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. He not only made enough cash to get his toys, but he was also able to donate $200 to St. Jude Children's Hospital. In 2021, his stand was shared widely on social media among those in the area, and Dennis raised enough to donate $4,500 to the hospital.
"As long as he's having fun doing it and it's what he wants to do, we'll be out here every year serving lemonade to everyone who's here," his mother told FOX 9.
Ways to celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Day
Giving someone a compliment, writing a nice note, picking up litter, donating a book to the library or buying a coffee are just some of the ways one can take part on Random Acts of Kindness Day.
Gym-goers can clean the equipment for others and diners can leave a generous tip for their server. Another suggestion from the foundation is holding a teddy bear drive and donating the stuffed animals to local hospitals, police stations or fire departments for children in need.
Other tips from the foundation include implementing a "judgment-free day," exercising and drinking more water.
"When you’re healthy and energetic, it is much easier to be kind," the foundation said.
Scientific benefits of being kind
Not only does a random act of kindness help someone in their day-to-day, but there are actually scientifically-proven benefits of being kind.
Witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin in the body, occasionally referred to as the "love hormone," which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving overall heart health, according to the foundation.
FILE - A couple is seen on top of a hill with a heart shaped balloon in Navi Mumbai, India, on Feb. 13, 2022. (Photo by Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Being kind is also contagious. Researchers at Standford University found that acts of kindness make others significantly more likely to pay it forward, causing it "to spread like a virus."
"We find that people imitate not only the particulars of positive actions, but also the spirit underlying them," Jamil Zaki, researcher and professor of psychology at Stanford, wrote in a 2016 Scientific American article of the findings. "This implies is that kindness itself is contagious, and that it can cascade across people, taking on new forms along the way."
A 2010 Harvard Business School survey of happiness, conducted in 136 countries, found that people who demonstrated altruistic behavior — such as those who were financially generous in this case — were the happiest overall.
The foundation also points to research showing that kindness increases one’s energy levels, as well as the phenomenon called the "helper’s high," in which the brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up in the person doing the good deed.
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation encourages people to commit to doing one small act of kindness each day after Feb. 17. It even sends a "daily dose of self-care" via text message to those who sign up.
This story was reported from Cincinnati.