Inspired to Change

The Science Behind Random Acts of Kindness




Are we too busy for kindness?

STOP, pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and as you breathe out, make the biggest smile you can.

It’s all go, go, go, get to work on time, take the kids to school, that meeting, get my hair done, pay the bill, get the shopping, prepare the dinner, there never seems to be enough time. People getting in the way, that feeling of being overwhelmed. Perhaps, it’s not all go and yet, you find yourself feeling numb, losing track of time and before you know it the day has gone with very little achieved.

We can find ourselves wrapped up in our lives, the world can pass us by and whilst we may see a little part of it, we allow hundreds of opportunities to go untouched.

If we think about each day when you leave your house, how many people do you go past? Whether you’re shopping or commuting to work, walking the dog or buying a coffee in the local café, do you ever look around and ask yourself “I wonder what that person has going on in their life?”

Creating a Connection

It’s funny, I have spent years of my life commuting in to London and every day as I was sat on the train, or standing on the tube, I would look at all the people around and ponder what they might be thinking. What do they have going on that I can’t see?

I remember a young lady on the Bakerloo line, I was on my way home at the end of a long day, as I stepped on to the train, I instantly noticed her, red faced, tears rolling down her cheeks, crying into her scarf. I wondered what was wrong, I wanted to help but at the same time thought ‘who am I to get involved’. I looked around and realised no-one else was remotely interested, they were carrying on with their lives like nothing was happening.

Eventually I crouched down, looked up and said, “I don’t want to intrude, don’t feel you have to explain, but are you ok? Do you need any help?” She sobbed pulled down the scarf a little and nodding her head, whispered, “I’ll be ok, thank you” A smile followed, a connection, an understanding that she was no longer alone on the train, help, if she wanted, but importantly the simple fact that she existed.

A Simple Act of Kindness

A simple act of kindness that can change a person’s entire day, can change your day and can even result in a new friendship being born. Performing a random act of kindness is truly one of the most rewarding things you can do. Not only do you make a person’s day, but you are rewarded with the most amazing feeling inside too. It’s like your spirit lifts and no matter what you have going on in your life, it suddenly seems insignificant.

The Neuroscience of Kindness

First, I need to explain the neuroscience. Our brains are made up of various structures and the one that controls our emotions and behaviours is called the “Limbic System”. Here we have three key parts that all work together to decide how we respond to situations, they are the Amygdala, the Hippocampus and the Hypothalamus.

When we have a positive interaction with someone it is this part of the brain that allows us to feel warmth, love and happiness, but it can also make us feel anxious, depressed or angry depending on the situation. Now, when we interact in a positive way, think in a positive way and do positive actions, we produce consistent patterns in our brain which causes the release of various neurotransmitters, which in turn, causes us to receive a chemical reward that enables us to feel good and cope better with situations.

The main chemicals we receive when we engage in a random act of kindness are Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins. As a result we feel a significant boost to our mood, we normally smile and feel happy, I would describe it as almost a warm glow inside. It can boost our feelings of happiness, increase our optimism and confidence. Not to mention the fact, the person who you help with your random act of kindness, will also receive the same chemical rewards. At the very least it makes the world a nicer place.

Kindness can help us Get Better, Cope Better and Be Better

When we find ourselves struggling to cope, maybe with low mood or overwhelm, a random act of kindness could be the simplest way to help you, take back control, cope better and in the long term get better. It can kick start a journey of positivity or it can be that emergency backup. “Break glass in an emergency”.

So, how easy is it to perform a random act of kindness?

Well, here are two more examples:

The Man at the Coffee Shop

I can remember standing in the queue at the coffee shop at the train station. It was 5am, a long line of people queuing for their coffee and hoping to get served before the train arrived.

A man was buying a tea and a newspaper, he tapped his card, “Declined” said the member of staff. He then started counting a few coins in his pocket and after a sigh explained he would have to leave them as he didn’t have enough money. There were lots of huffs and puffs coming from the queue because he was causing a delay.

My simple act, I called out from the queue “Don’t worry, give him the tea and his paper and I will pay for it.” In that split moment, the coffee shop came to a standstill, people looked and the lady behind the counter said, “You don’t see that very often nowadays”. The gentleman announced his gratitude and promised that one day when he had enough money he would pay me back. He thanked me again a left to catch his train.

I ordered my coffee and on this occasion the lady behind the counter said “Don’t worry it’s on me”. In such a brief encounter, I made three new connections, between us we all received that chemical reward and shared a moment that made our day. The lady behind the counter still works there and still to this day talks about the simple act of kindness.

The Lady in the Salon

Another time, I was in town having a pedicure, it was just out of lockdown, everyone still wearing masks and in the shop was an elderly lady (mid 80s) sat waiting to have her nails done. She was alone, immaculately dressed and her perm perfectly set. It was clear she was just pleased to be with people. She looked over and asked if I was enjoying my treatment and we chatted briefly. A lady who had just had her nails done came over to me and said she was putting £10 behind the counter to pay towards the elderly lady’s nails. It was done discreetly without her knowledge, we smiled and nodded and inside I was already feeling that warm glow.

After my treatment I said goodbye to the elderly lady and wished her well with her new nails. I was walking up the high street when I passed the florists, huge bunches of brightly coloured flowers on display. I couldn’t resist, new nails and a lovely bunch of flowers, it would make her day.

I walked back to the shop, flowers in hand and as I entered and walked back over to the lady, I knelt down, the shop went silent and the lady put her hand up to her mouth, the word “No” whispered out. I simply said “You are a special lady and sometimes we all deserve a day where we get pampered. We have all been isolated for so long, its lovely to see you here enjoying yourself.” Tears in her eyes, she pulled down her mask, gave me a huge hug and a kiss and said “I love you.” It was electric, everyone in the shop started clapping and taking pictures. I bid her good day and waved goodbye, still knowing that she had one more surprise to come, the money behind the counter towards her nails.

The Warm Glow of Kindness

I cannot express how amazing random acts of kindness ar. As I write this blog I am feeling that same warm glow inside and feel amazing. It is one of the easiest things we can do and could be the single act which stops someone from feeling alone, overwhelmed or in some cases, from taking their life.

A study by Kumar & Epley (2022) found that performing random acts of kindness increases happiness in both givers and receivers, but givers systematically undervalue their positive impact on recipients. Moreover, they demonstrate that the act itself can be something as simple as sending someone a card, buying a coffee or offering a lift. You do not need to break the bank or perform a grand act in order to boost yours or another’s happiness and it can be planned as well as spontaneous.

Maybe one day I will buy you a coffee at the train station, or perhaps you me. Who knows if our paths will cross but lets hope after today, you too may take time to ponder what is happening in a strangers life.

About the AuthorBenn Baker-Pollard practices from his home in Sittingbourne in Kent and sees clients both in person and online. As someone who has experienced anxiety and stress first hand, he understands how difficult it is to ask for help and to break the negative cycle of anxiety. Benn specialises in Anxiety, Trauma, Stress, Sports Performance, Sexual Orientation and Business Success.

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