Friday, August 20, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness - For Better Health

One of my favorite things in the world is carrying out random acts of kindness. I just love, love, love planning a 'secret ambush' and doing it without anyone ever knowing who it came from. What a thrill!! Most of the time I never even meet the person I've ambushed - that's all part of the fun.

Discovering what I was missing

A while back I stopped doing these things because I was going through an extremely rough patch with Migraine and pain issues. They were completely out of control, and I wondered how I was going to be able to survive 40 more years living the way that I was, depending on my family to constantly care for me and help me whenever I needed it regardless of their own lives and plans. I became the "taker" of our relationships.

I had always been a "giver" up to that point, and realizing that I was sucking everyone around me dry made me feel even worse! My family realized how badly I felt about this and the hopelessness of the situation they knew I was in physically. The worried about me to the point of removing things in the house they thought I might use to harm myself. They didn't know how I could want to survive everything I was enduring.

In the meantime, I wanted nothing more than to feel better. Since I had no control over my health, I decided to focus on the things over which I did have control. I had plenty of time in bed to think about the things in life that gave me joy, and I knew I needed a little of that joy back.

Many of my favorite pastimes were out of my reach. I could no longer ride my beautiful horses, or swim in the pool or visit friends. What could I do?

That's when I remembered how good it felt to do random acts of kindness.

Random acts of kindness - an adjunct therapy?

I realized that when I was stuck in bed, I could plot and plan (what a great diversion to the pain!), and on those fairly good days I could do something about those plans. I could still be the "giver". I could still make people smile.

I started little - the simple things that weren't time sensitive. Among other things I...

* wrote thank you notes to people I didn't know
* made art pieces and donated them to charitable organizations for fund raisers
* donated to local food banks - for people and animals
* complimented strangers - with a smile
* tore up some of the checks I received for artwork I had sold
* wrote letters of encouragement to clients I had never met
* prayed for friends and strangers at noon every day
* went thru drive thru, bought nothing and paid for someone's order behind me
* paid for a family's meal at a restaurant at Christmas
* made valentine decorations for the nursing home
* gave away things I no longer needed to families who needed them
* brought magazines to the local jail
* spent a day with family making homemade caramels for neighbors
* supported local youths by attending concerts and activities usually only family attends
* anonymously donated scholarship money to specific youths who needed help
* bought tickets for fundraisers, then gave them away
* became a storm spotter to help warn the community of dangerous weather
* arranged the donation of equipment for local emergency services
* started a conversation with someone elderly, then hugged them when we parted
* brought a lamb to the nursing home
* bought a Christmas/Birthday gift for a needy child
* did laundry for my grown kids without them knowing
* helped someone make and address their Christmas cards
* gave riding lessons to local kids
* read stories to local pre-school kids
* gave presentations or acted as judge for local groups and donated the fee back to them
* won a raffle and gave the item away to someone who needed it more
* bought a boo-boo blanket for a sick child far away
* gave bags of candy to kids on a float so they could toss it out in a parade
* anonymously sponsored a trophy in a horse show
* gave a rose to someone random

When I did these things it was because I wanted to help someone else out. In the end, I found that the smiles I got in return really did make me feel better. The stress that accompanies living with chronic illness has almost vanished. It's true - smiles really ARE contagious! Oh yes, I still have the same pain. It's just a little easier to take each day now because I've tried to fill those days up with at least one random act that nobody expected - no matter how small.

I found the joy I was looking for again. It wasn't gone. I just forgot where I'd placed it!

The bonus? Now my family no longer worries that I won't want to survive my ordeal with chronic pain, and they smile a lot more too. :)

Have you ever thought of random acts of kindness as an adjunct therapy for your pain? Have you ever tried performing random acts of kindness? Have you ever done something like this anonymously? What is your favorite random act? How did it make you feel?

Comment by Amy K on August 21, 2010 at 6:35pm
What a wonderful post and reminder of the "good" doing good does for us!

Honestly, I have done little things here and there, donations, prayer, cards in the mail, etc, but I have never made it a daily goal. What a wonderful idea to do this and to see it's affect on our pain! I love it.

Thank you for sharing your hard times with us Ellen, it is good to know you experience them and then also come out of them! It is awful to think of you suffering like that, but to know that you have such tenacity to find a way to help yourself through it is so inspiring.

I will focus more on these kinds of random acts of kindness and keep you posted! A favorite but very small thing I like to do is smile. I always enjoy smiling at people and saying hi to them... even if they look at me like "why is she smiling?"
Comment by Ellen S on August 22, 2010 at 11:04am
Amy - I LOVE to smile at people. The grocery store line, sitting at a stop light. At first people look at you funny, but then they smile back. Then I remember how good it makes me feel to smile at someone - it cheers me up inside. I hope that, by smiling back they get that same feeling, even if it's just for a moment. It's a small thing, but by doing that I really do think you are helping to make a difference in your world. It is a kindness, to share a smile...
Comment by Amy K on August 22, 2010 at 1:29pm
I agree Ellen.

It's funny, so often I think I would like to do more for people but feel I am limited by money. Just offering to help someone out the door of the store, or opening the door for a mom with her arms full or pushing a stroller... these things are small too, but they make for a kinder and happier world. Sometimes, when (usually a gentlemen) opens a door for me, I am so much more appreciative inside than they know. I always say thank you, but he doesn't know that my body is hurting and that door is really heavy to me today! So, the little things do matter! =)
Comment by Ellen S on August 23, 2010 at 10:03am
I too love it when I have an extra dollar or two to spend on somebody, but so often it is those tiny little things - mowing a neighbor's lawn, walking across the street with a handful of garden flowers, taking my pet to the nursing home - that make me smile the most.

It doesn't take money to do most of these things. It takes time.... and intention.

Wow, I sure feel good when, even in my state of chronic pain and illness, I am able to do something to make somebody else feel good for a few moments. What a charge....!!!
Comment by Ellen S on August 23, 2010 at 10:05am
LOL! Maybe I should have added, that mowing the lawn for a neighbor for me consists of talking to hubs or a kid and asking them to do it. Lawns in our part of the country - in the country - can be acres!
Comment by amanda on August 24, 2010 at 9:45am
This is awesome Ellen! Thanks for sharing your ideas too because it definitely illustrated the range of "random acts of kindness" one can do. Big or small they are all effective! Have you heard of Operation Nice? I just came across it and it sounds like they are trying take the idea of 'being nice' to a cool proactive level: and @operationnice

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