7 ideas for random acts of kindness when the world feels like a dumpster fire

Sarah Von Bargen
6 min readOct 16, 2018

“Girl, 2018 is not the year I want ideas for random acts of kindness. This is the year I’m calling my senators every day, yelling my head off at protests, and #resisting.” <- Is this what you thought when you read the title of this post?

Friend, I get it. I really, really, really do. When it feels like the whole world is on fire, returning your shopping cart or bringing in cupcakes for your coworkers can feel futile and foolish.

The truth is this: random acts of kindness benefit you as much as they benefit everyone around you.

Random acts of kindness make YOU feel better

Let’s be real: 2018 has been horrible. Most of us could use an injection of Feel Good. Luckily for us (and everyone around us), kindness can do that.

People who volunteer and donate to charities have been shown to have higher levels of self-esteem and happiness. They have a 22% lower mortality rate than non-volunteers!

So let’s add some random acts of kindness to our self-care regime, tucked between ‘re-reading a favorite novel’ and ‘going for a walk next to a body of water.’

Random acts of kindness help you feel empowered — instead of powerless in the face of, say, a crumbling democracy

I don’t know about you, but taking action — almost any action — makes me feel better. If malaise and overwhelm are what ails me, taking one tiny step towards a kinder world is an antidote.

When I see that my neighborhood is free of litter because I picked it all up like a weirdo, I feel slightly less downtrodden.

When I know my favorite NGO has a new copier because of my donations, I’m less likely to scream-cry into a paper bag.

When I find out my favorite barista is a manager now (maybe because I kept praising her to the owner?), I feel slightly less adrift in a world where bad things happen to good people.

Random acts of kindness fill you up so you can keep going + keep fighting

When you feel empowered, happy, and proud of the life you’re living, you have the energy to keep fighting.

You have the wherewithal to attend another protest or call another politician. You’re calm enough to diplomatically discuss immigration reform or reproductive rights. You can sleep at night and wake up well-rested enough to cope when you turn on CNN.

7 ideas for random acts of kindness

1. Praise someone to their supervisor

Public-facing jobs are haaaaaard. Cashiers, baristas, and servers are on their feet all day, dealing with people who are hungry, impatient, or under-caffeinated. Customer service reps get yelled at all day, every blessed day. Nurses are surrounded by sick people who hate the healthcare system.

So when we encounter someone who does their job with patience and grace, let’s make sure they know they’re appreciated. We can tell them directly, “I really appreciate the way you handled this.” Or we can call, email, or tag their employer to let them know how much we enjoyed our experience.

Even if that person doesn’t immediately get a raise or a promotion, they’ll know that their generosity and patience has been noticed. And they’re more likely to pass that patience on to the next customer.

2. Clean up a public space

In a perfect world, everybody would return their grocery cart to the corral. Garbage would never blow out of overstuffed cans and gas station employees would check the bathrooms every hour.

Bad news: we do not live in a perfect world.

Good news: with pretty minimal effort, we can return that errant cart so no one hits it with their car. We can wipe off the sink with the paper towel we just used. We can pick up that plastic bottle that’s rolling down the sidewalk.

A cleaner, nicer world for all of us!

3. Send a care package to a soldier

Regardless of how you feel about our current administration and its military policies, I think we can all acknowledge that being a soldier is incredibly challenging. The people serving our country deserve better than the treatment they often receive once they’ve come home.

Organizations like HeroBox allow you to ‘sponsor’ a service member and send them care packages specific to their needs + wants — like ‘detective novels + Snickers bars.’ Or you can donate funds and items to Operation Courage Is Beautiful, an organization that sends care packages to female service members.

4. Schedule reminders into your Google calendar to reach out to people

This piece of advice comes from a friend who lost her mom at the age of 20.

“Everybody’s really supportive for, like, two weeks,” she said. “But then life moves on, people get busy, and if you’re not crying at work every day, people think you’re okay. What really helped were the friends who continued to check in with me six months or a year after the fact.”

So if your friend is going through something awful, schedule a reminder to check in with them in a month. Reach out to your friends who have less-than-amazing relationships with their parents on Mothers’ and Fathers’ day.

If you know the anniversary of a miscarriage, divorce, or death is coming up, drop them an email. If you’re worried you’ll forget, schedule an email in Boomerang!

Related: It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be something.

5. Give a gift card (or some water or a care package) to a person experiencing homelessness

If you don’t carry cash or you’re not comfortable handing it out on street corners, there are still lots of ways you can help someone experiencing homelessness.*

Give them a gift card to a nearby fast food restaurant or store. There are often people asking for money on the median near our house, kiddy corner from a Walgreens and a Burger King. It’s super easy to buy a few $5 gift cards when I pop into Walgreens for mascara! I can keep the gift cards in my glove compartment and hand them out when the opportunity arises.

You can also put together a care package or buy a bulk package of bottled water and hand it out on hot days.

* Of course, donating and volunteering with homeless shelters is great as well! This is simply a way to meet a need more immediately.

6. Pay off someone’s layaway plan

In the age of credit cards, not as many people use layaway plans but there are still thousands of open accounts at stores like Sears and Kmart.

If you’re not familiar, a layaway plan is a way for people to make periodic payments towards the purchase of an item they can’t afford to purchase outright. People are usually charged fees or a percentage, making the final cost higher than if they bought the item in one fell swoop.

Paying off someone’s layaway plan will take a bit of finagling. I had to find a Kmart, drive there, and explain myself to two employees, BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT.

For $17, I paid off a family’s layaway of a Dora The Explorer bedding set. I spent the rest of the day getting weepy every time I thought of that kiddo snuggling under that comforter.

7. Write Yelp and Google reviews for your favorite small businesses

Anytime anyone compliments my haircut, I fairly scream “Amberlie at Rouge Salon in St. Paul! This is a $36 haircut!!!” That’s great and everything, but I could probably send more business her way by taking 1.5 minutes to leave a glowing online review.

Yelp reviews and Google reviews matter! Especially for service providers like stylists, mechanics, masseuses, and house cleaners. So if you have one you love, tell the internet about them.

If you’re in the Twin Cities, Worku is our extremely beloved mechanic and Kenny loves Hilda’s haircuts and does all his bike-related shopping at The Hub.

But I want to hear from you! How are you keeping your batteries charged during this super trying time? Have you been on the giving or receiving end of a random act of kindness? Tell us in the comments so we can try it!

P.S. Want to join almost 4,000 people who are working to make their lives happier on a daily basis? Click here to join my free, private Facebook group More Money, More Happy!



Sarah Von Bargen

Writer and teacher who studies happiness, money, and living your life on purpose. Figure it alongside me here: http://bit.ly/get_it_