By Jan Engoren
Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
— Mark Twain
We’ve all seen them — bumper stickers encouraging us to “commit random acts of kindness.” In fact, Feb. 17 is the official Random Acts of Kindness Day, a designation begun in the 1980s in the San Francisco Bay area by the nonprofit Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
A random act of kindness is doing something nice for someone else, without that person asking and without your expecting something in return.
“Kindness is the key to well-being,” says Karin Gellen, executive director of Kindness Matters 365, a nonprofit based in Boca Raton. “Kindness starts with kindness toward yourself, which then translates towards kindness to others and eventually leads to a kinder world.”
Founded by Boca Raton resident Laura Reiss in 2008, KM365 works in the school system to equip kids and teens with knowledge and skills for their social and emotional well-being.
Science has shown benefits to being kind. Kindness increases the love hormone, energy levels, pleasure, serotonin and even your lifespan, while decreasing pain, stress, anxiety, depression and blood pressure.
Positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brain, improving mood and making both the doer and the receiver inclined to “pay it forward.” This means one good deed begets another.
As Gellen knows, kindness is teachable and studies show people can build up their compassion “muscle” and respond to others’ suffering with care and desire to help.
Some kinds of wonderful
Clara Geraci 58, of Boynton Beach, helped feed up to 1,000 people a day for two weeks after Hurricane Ian in 2022, and went to Louisiana in 2017 after a hurricane there, working 12-hour days opening shelters and distributing supplies.
She has been a full-time volunteer with the Red Cross for 20 years and volunteers on Southwest Airlines’ animal transportation team.
More than once Geraci has come to a stranger’s aid on Interstate 95 after witnessing an accident — and in 2022 she helped the driver of an oil tanker that crashed and burst into flames on I-95 in Delray Beach, making sure everyone was safely out of the truck.
“I do it for selfish reasons,” she says. “It makes me feel good when I see the smiles on their faces. It brings me joy.”
Retired Boynton Beach stockbroker Joe Donadio, 69, was on the receiving end of kindness after fainting and falling off his bicycle last March. Rushed to Delray Medical Center, he needed six stitches to his head. He later learned three cars had stopped to offer assistance and one woman wrapped a blanket around his head to stanch the bleeding.
He posted on Nextdoor, but was never able to find and thank the Good Samaritans who stopped.
Christine Roberts, 66, the former assistant public works director for the city of Boynton Beach, practices small, daily acts of kindness: posting positive messages on her Facebook page, complimenting a stranger in the grocery store or giving boxes of toiletries to homeless people. She once raised $15,000 with her church to help a family in need.
She brought diabetes testing kits to work to test employees who were reluctant to visit a doctor.
One of the most gratifying moments came when an employee brought her a large bouquet of flowers as a thank-you for “being an angel and saving his life.”
“Kindness has rewarded me,” Roberts says. “I try to spread it wherever I go.”
’Learn how to feel good’
For Gellen, it’s not only the personal random acts of kindness that matter, but engaging the larger community.
“It’s a synchronicity between gratitude, kindness and compassion,” she says. “They all work together.”
At a personal level, Gellen says through her work teaching kindness to children and teens, she learned to become more self-aware and to practice self-care, which improved her own level of happiness.
“I learned to relate to people in a more authentic way,” she says. “This led to greater understanding, stronger communication and feeling more fulfilled.
“Through my work teaching kindness with KM365, I have experienced personal growth and unity with my community, and that feels really good,” she says.
Her best advice?
“Learn how to feel good, feel your best and spread kindness,” says Gellen. “Learn how to shine your light.”
Jan Engoren writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.